Evidence suggests that obesity changes the structure and size of the heart muscle, including the way it contracts and its electrical function, potentially leading to atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat.
"Lose weight to reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation."
Dr Hany Abed, a cardiologist with the University of Adelaide in Australia, noted that it was already known that obesity could prompt elevated blood pressure, which added strain to the heart.
In Australia, hospital admissions from atrial fibrillation have tripled over the past 15 years, most affecting older men who are overweight. It has become more common there for patients to be admitted for atrial fibrillation than for heart failure. The condition has been directly linked to strokes and heart attacks.
Dr. Abed said that one problem is that the heart abnormality is often picked up incidentally such as during a check up or when a person suffers dizzy spells, heart palpitations or chest pains. Often the first sign of such a disorder is when an individual has a stroke.
Researchers discovered the link between atrial fibrillation and obesity using a sheep model. They found electrical abnormalities in the heart chamber.
Dr. Abed estimates two thirds of atrial fibrillation cases will be due solely to obesity by the year 2020. Though the disorder is not restricted to a particular age group, the elderly as a population have become more overweight and may be at a heightened risk.
He said that early study results indicate that the risk could be reversed if patients lose weight.
The research has not yet been published. It was presented at the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand Scientific Meeting.