MONDAY, Nov. 9, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Obesity is a major risk factor for left atrial enlargement, which increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, stroke and death, a new study shows.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia (an irregular heart rhythm or heartbeat).
Researchers analyzed data on 1,212 men and women, aged 25 to 74, in Germany who were followed for 10 years. The study authors concluded that obesity and hypertension cause structural and functional changes in the heart and are independent predictors of left atrial enlargement (LAE).
The highest incidence of LAE after 10 years was seen in obese people -- 31.6 percent compared to baseline prevalence of 10 percent among all study participants.
The findings, published in the Nov. 17 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, confirm the strong association between obesity and LAE reported in previous research. Some of those studies found that excess weight may affect left atrial size at an early age, potentially predisposing young obese people to future heart problems.
The authors of the new study said early assessment and intervention, especially among younger obese patients, is crucial to prevent the premature onset of cardiac remodeling -- changes in heart size, shape and function -- caused by LAE.
But they noted that it isn't clear how much weight management or moderate weight loss can improve LAE. Further research is needed.
The American Heart Association has more about atrial fibrillation.