Atrial fibrillation may be caused by stress: Research shows yoga improves quality of life for sufferers by lowering heart rate, blood pressure

Atrial fibrillation is a cardiac rhythm disorder marked by the rapid and irregular beating of the atrium. Currently, there is no known cure for this condition, while management focuses on relief and prevention. Yet a study from 2016 has uncovered a new method of dealing with the symptoms of this condition: yoga.

As reported by, yoga has been shown to improve the quality of life of patients afflicted with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. “We found that patients who did yoga had a better quality of life, lower heart rate and lower blood pressure than patients who did not do yoga,” said Maria Wahlström, a co-author of the study.

To come to this conclusion, Wahlström and her colleagues recruited 80 patients, all of whom had been diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Each of the patients’ heart rates and blood pressure were measured at the beginning of the study, and again at the end. The team also evaluated the patients’ quality of life — which encompassed physical and mental health — using validated questionnaires.

The patients were then randomly placed into two groups. The first group or control group received the standard treatment for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, which consisted of medication, cardioversion, and catheter ablation whenever necessary. The second group underwent standard treatment as well, but supplemented it with yoga. Once a week for 12 weeks, the patients in the yoga group performed yoga sessions that included deep breathing, light movements, and meditation.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that yoga group scored better than the control group. Specifically, the yoga group had higher mental health scores, lower heart rates, and lower blood pressure scores (both systolic and diastolic) compared to the others.

“It could be that the deep breathing balances the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, leading to less variation in heart rate. The breathing and movement may have beneficial effects on blood pressure,” said Wahlström.

She added: “Yoga may improve quality of life in patients with paroxysmal [atrial fibrillation] because it gives them a method to gain some self control over their symptoms instead of feeling helpless. Patients in the yoga group said it felt good to let go of their thoughts and just be inside themselves for awhile.

“A lot of the patients I meet who have paroxysmal [atrial fibrillation] are very stressed. Yoga should be offered as a complementary therapy to help them relax. It may also reduce their visits to the hospital by lowering their anxiety until an [atrial fibrillation] episode stops.”

Following the results, Wahlström and her colleagues began a new study that focused on 140 patients with symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Instead of being divided into two groups, the researchers randomized the patients into three: a control group, a yoga group, and a music relaxation group. The aim of this study is to determine whether the health benefits of yoga lay in the relaxation or the movement and deep breathing.

Fast facts on atrial fibrillation

  • There are three types of atrial fibrillation: paroxysmal, persistent, and chronic. According to, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation is characterized by the occasional occurrence and spontaneous cessation of atrial fibrillation. Persistent atrial fibrillation can go on for seven days and needs medication or electric shock treatment to stop. Chronic fibrillation lasts for several years, and those with this condition can’t return their heart rhythm to normal.
  • Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm disorder, and occurs in as many as 6.1 million people in the United States alone.
  • There are numerous potential causes for atrial fibrillation. These include: heart damage caused by heart disease or high blood pressure, medication, binge drinking, inflammation, hyperthyroidism, low potassium and/or magnesium levels, and viral infections, among others. Those with a family history of atrial fibrillation are at risk of this disease too.

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