Yoga halves irregular-heartbeat episodes -US study

* Study examines yoga’s effect on atrial fibrillation

* Patients urged to continue standard medical therapy, too

* Study released at American College of Cardiology meeting

By Ransdell Pierson and Bill Berkrot

NEW ORLEANS, April 2 (Reuters) – Yoga, already proven to
lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, can cut in
half the risk of a common and potentially dangerous irregular
heartbeat, according to a U.S. study released on Saturday.

The small study was the first to examine the benefits of
yoga on atrial fibrillation — a problem that is a leading
cause of stroke and is most common in the elderly.

In addition to halving the episodes of atrial fibrillation,
the study found that yoga also reduced symptoms of anxiety and
depression related to the condition.

“These findings are important because many of the current
conventional treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation
include invasive procedures or medications with undesirable
side effects,” said Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, an associate
professor with the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas
City, Kansas, who led the study.

He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the
American College of Cardiology being held in New Orleans.

The study involved 49 patients with the heart rhythm
disorder who had no physical limitations and no prior
experience with yoga. Their episodes of irregular heartbeat
were measured for a six-month period by researchers at the
hospital.

During the first three months, patients were allowed to
participate in any physical activity they liked.

For the remaining three months, they underwent a supervised
yoga program that involved breathing exercises, yoga postures,
meditation and relaxation.

Forty-five minute yoga sessions with a certified
professional were held three times each week, and patients were
encouraged to practice daily yoga exercises at home.

Heart monitors measured episodes of irregular heartbeat
throughout the trial, and patients completed short
self-administered surveys to assess their levels of anxiety,
depression and overall quality of life.

‘SIGNIFICANT IMPACT’

On average, yoga cut episodes of the irregular heartbeat in
half, while also significantly reducing depression and anxiety
scores and improving scores in physical functioning, general
health, vitality, social functioning and mental health, the
researchers found.

“It appears yoga has a significant impact on helping to
regulate patients’ heartbeat and improves the overall quality
of life,” Lakkireddy said.

Atrial fibrillation causes blood to pool in the upper
chambers of the heart, where it can clot and travel to the
brain, causing strokes. Millions of patients with the condition
take the blood thinner warfarin every day to lower the risk of
such clots, and thereby prevent strokes.

Considering its low cost and benefits, Lakkireddy said yoga
should be considered in overall treatment of atrial
fibrillation and other heart rhythm problems.

But Lakkireddy cautioned that larger studies are needed to
bear out the findings of his study, and that patients should
continue with standard medical therapy.

“Based on my findings, one should not tell patients that
yoga will fix everything and they can stop taking their
anticoagulants. Yoga is strictly a supplement for everything
else they are doing medically,” he said.

A new wave of promising medicines to prevent such strokes
is being developed by several drugmakers, one of which —
Xarelto being developed by Bayer (BAYGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) and Johnson &
Johnson (JNJ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) — will be highlighted at the heart meeting.

But the pills come with side effects, and are expected to
cost thousands of dollars a year, when they reach the market.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson and Bill Berkrot)

Yoga halves irregular-heartbeat episodes -US study