Researchers say that beta blockers could help patients with a-fib, a heart condition often triggered by stress and negative emotions. Photo by PublicDomainPictures
People whose heart rhythm problems stem from stress and anger may benefit from taking beta blocker drugs, a new study suggests.
Atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, is a common type of heart rhythm disorder sometimes triggered by stress and negative emotions.
Beta blockers are drugs that block the effects of adrenaline and related substances.
"While patients often describe anger or stress triggering their emotions, our data show that this is more than just anecdote. Here, we show that beta blockers can block the deleterious effects of emotion in those prone to emotion-triggered [a-fib]," said lead investigator Dr. Rachel Lampert. She's a professor of internal medicine (cardiology) at Yale School of Medicine.
The study included 95 patients with a history of a-fib who were diagnosed and/or treated for the condition at the emergency departments of Yale New Haven Hospital or the nearby Hospital of Saint Raphael, in Connecticut.
The patients carried an electronic diary with them for a year and recorded their emotions before a-fib episodes. Whenever they had a-fib symptoms -- such as heart palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath -- for five or more minutes, a handheld monitor logged their heart rhythm.
Fifty-six patients were prescribed beta blockers. In these patients, stress or anger increased the risk of a-fib fourfold, compared with a 20-times higher risk among patients who didn't take beta blockers.
The study will be published in the August issue of the journal HeartRhythm.
"In a previous research study, we found that among patients with a history of AF [a-fib], anger and stress were associated with subsequent episodes of AF," Lampert said in a journal news release.
"We therefore tested the hypothesis that beta blockers may reduce the triggering effect of anger or stress on AF," she explained.
"Treatment of AF remains challenging ... Confirming the impact of emotion on arrhythmia can point the way to further therapies," Lampert concluded.
Beta blockers temporarily stop or reduce the body's "fight or flight" response to stress, the researchers said.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on atrial fibrillation.
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