Fish Oil Nutrient Boosts Ailing Hearts

Better outcomes for bypass patients and those using pacemakers

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WEDNESDAY, May 4, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- By taking omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, patients can reduce their risk for dangerous arrhythmia after bypass surgery by more than 50 percent, a new study suggests.

These compounds may be of benefit to nonsurgical patients, too: a second study found that omega-3 fatty acids reduced by 67 percent the incidence of atrial arrhythmias in people with pacemakers.

Both studies were presented this week at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual scientific sessions in New Orleans.

The first study included 160 heart bypass patients divided into two groups before surgery. Beginning at least five days before surgery, one group received omega-3 fatty acids while a control group did not.

Following surgery, postoperative atrial fibrillation -- a potentially lethal form of irregular heartbeat -- developed in 12 of the patients (15.2 percent) who received omega-3 fatty acids, compared to 27 of the patients (33.3 percent) in the control group. The patients treated with omega-3 fatty acids were also hospitalized for significantly fewer days following surgery than those in the control group.

There were no major differences between the two groups of patients in the incidence of nonfatal post-surgery complications or in post-surgery deaths, report researchers at San Filippo Neri Hospital, in Rome.

The second study included 40 people with pacemakers and a history of atrial arrhythmias. Treatment with omega-3 fatty acids resulted in a dramatic reduction of atrial arrhythmias, say researchers at Ospedale S. Giacomo, in Rome. When treatment was stopped, the patients experienced a significant increase in the condition.

"These two studies are more good news for heart patients. These fatty acids in fish oil show real promise for the prevention and treatment of atrial fibrillation and atrial arrhythmias -- two serious heart rhythm disorders," Dr. Stephen C. Hammill, president of the Heart Rhythm Society, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about omega-3 fatty acids.

SOURCE: Heart Rhythm Society, news release, May 4, 2005

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