Healing hearts

Atrial fibrillation—an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)—has long been one of the West’s most common causes of stroke, heart failure and hospitalisation.

Now, with ageing populations and increasing incidences in younger generations, “AFib” is predicted to affect 16 million by 2050 in the United States alone1. But what if clinicians treated lifestyle factors, not symptoms? According to world-leading University of Adelaide research, real progress.

"Our studies have shown that the treatment of risk factors can reduce patients’ arrhythmia burden and actually reverse atrial fibrillation."Professor Sanders

A team at the University’s Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders is taking a holistic approach to atrial fibrillation treatment with transformative results. Through the management of lifestyle-related risk factors, many patients who previously struggled to work, or even interact with friends and family due to debilitating symptoms, have regained control over their disease and lives.

With such outstanding results, the group is now sharing its techniques with the wider community and plans to establish treatment sites around the world.

“Our studies have shown that the treatment of risk factors can reduce patients’ arrhythmia burden and actually reverse atrial fibrillation,” says Group Leader Professor Prashanthan Sanders, who has spent nearly two decades researching techniques for AFib prevention, management and cures.

“It’s become clear there are bits we’ve been missing,” says Professor Sanders, “and those are the lifestyle factors. Our group has shown that managing lifestyle-related diseases can eliminate atrial fibrillation to the point where 40 per cent of patients are no longer requiring medication or an invasive procedure.”

Prash Sanders

The group’s research has been translating directly into the clinic for some time now, where Professor Sanders and his team work one-on-one with highly symptomatic, end-stage individuals to identify and treat conditions predisposing them to arrhythmia. These risks can include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, or even sleep apnoea. “We set them individualised, achievable targets so we can review the situation and help them improve, whether through increasing physical activity, reducing weight or better blood pressure control—whatever it may be.”

The group is committed to establishing sites around Australia, and eventually the world, where arrhythmia patients can be treated holistically, with a primary focus on lifestyle factors and diseases.

 “Seeing the outcomes for patients—the impact on their personal lives, how they’ve gained control over a disease that previously stopped them doing things, and moved forward in such positive ways—that’s the most fulfilling part of the research and our group’s motivation to do more.”

Learn more about Professor Sanders

Roger, Veronique L., Alan S. Go, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, Emelia J. Benjamin, Jarret D. Berry, et al.; on behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics–2012 Update. Circulation. 2012; 125: e2-e220. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/125/1/e2