Feb. 15 (UPI) -- People with irregular heartbeats may be able to reverse the condition with simple lifestyle changes, new research shows.
Drinking less alcohol and caffeine, and getting more exercise and sleep, can help stave off atrial fibrillation, or AF, according to findings published Thursday in the journal HeartRhythm.
"Almost all AF studies have to do with risk factors for the initial development of the disease," senior author Gregory Marcus, a cardiologist at University of California at San Francisco and study author, said in a news release. "This study focuses on specific exposures that cause an individual episode to occur."
AF is a heart rhythm disorder that causes the atrial walls of the heart's upper chamber to tremble. This prevents it from contracting as it should, which pushes blood to the heart's lower chambers. This can lead to blood clots.
That's important because about one in four adults over 40 is at risk for AF, the study says.
As one of the main causes of stroke, AF tends to have no symptoms, making it harder to treat until a stroke happens. These findings could help doctors detect AF earlier and possibly avoid a stroke or other negative health outcomes like dementia, chronic kidney disease and heart attack.
A recent study also points to breast cancer as a risk factor for AF.
Catheter abaltion could be one possible treatment for AF, researchers have previously suggested.
The new study could be a breakthrough for the up to 6 million people in the U.S. who suffer from AF, UCSF researchers say.
"Better understanding of individual-level triggers may help empower patients and represents a novel approach to improving quality of life and reducing health care use for AF," Marcus said. "For those with an AF family history, understanding gene-environment interactions may reveal novel mechanisms and, ultimately, help to counsel patients regarding the best lifestyle interventions."