FRIDAY, Dec. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Atrial fibrillation is a potentially dangerous form of irregular heartbeat for older Americans. However, a new study suggests healthy changes in eating and exercise habits can help ease the condition.
According to the Australian researchers, atrial fibrillation is the most common cause of irregular heartbeat, and it's been linked to a heightened risk for dementia, stroke and death.
The new study included more than 149 people who had undergone a procedure called catheter ablation to treat the condition. In this procedure, the tissue surrounding the problem area in the heart is burned.
In addition, 61 of the patients also took part in an aggressive "risk factor management" program after they underwent catheter ablation. The program was designed to reduce lifestyle risk factors such as being overweight, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar levels, sleep breathing problems (such as sleep apnea), and smoking and drinking.
After five years, patients who managed these lifestyle factors were five times more likely to be alive and to be free of heart rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation than those hadn't gotten healthier -- 87 percent versus 18 percent.
"This is a very important finding because it shows the huge gap between what happens when patients are able to manage the underlying risks of their health and those who rely solely on medical intervention," lead author Dr. Rajeev Pathak, a cardiologist and electrophysiology fellow at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a university news release.
"This study should serve as a wake-up call to physicians to begin prevention programs to reduce disease states rather than focus on their treatment only, and the good news is: it is never too late to start," he added.
The study was published in the December issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atrial fibrillation.