A pacemaker is used to treat irregular heartbeats. Lifestyle changes can be made early on.
It has been long known that controlling blood sugar and blood pressure can reduce your risk of developing serious health problems like stroke and heart attack.
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- A new study has shown that these may be controlled to prevent common arrhythmias, which are often treated with pacemakers.
- The study was published in JAMA Network Open on May 24, and included more than 6,000 Finnish citizens over the past 32 years.
- Researchers discovered that higher blood pressure and faster glucose levels were linked to a type AV block, which is an irregular heartbeat.
What is an AV block?
Atrioventricular block (AV) is a condition where the conduction and transmission of electrical signals from the top of the heart, the ventricles and the atria, is blocked.
It can lead to dizziness, fainting and chest pain.
Experts caution that this study does not mean that those with AV block will be able to treat their condition by changing their diet or exercising.
“AV block is not a chronic condition that can be managed with lifestyle changes,” Dr. Eli Gelfand, section head of general cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, said. He wasn’t part of the study.
Depending on how severe the AV block is, patients may still require treatment. Sometimes, this means that a pacemaker is implanted to maintain a normal heartbeat.
High blood pressure and high blood glucose are risk factors for cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and coronary artery disease.
These and other risk factors are discussed by cardiologists and other doctors with patients regularly. The latest research adds AV block to the list.
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Gelfand stated that the study gives patients an extra incentive to aggressively treat and counsel them in order to lower their risk of developing conduction system diseases.
Modifiable risk factors to irregular heartbeat
This new study was based upon data from over 6,000 Finnish patients, who were followed up to 32 years.
Research has shown that there are several factors that increase the risk of developing AV Block. These include older age, male gender, higher systolic pressure, higher fasting glucose and history of heart attacks or congestive heart failure.
Lifestyle modifications are not able to directly alter blood pressure or glucose levels, but they can reduce the likelihood of heart attack or heart failure.
Research suggests that 47% of cases of AV Block are due to high systolic blood pressure. Elevated glucose levels were responsible for an estimated 11% of cases.
Dr. Michael Chan is an interventional cardioologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. He cautioned that the study was only observational. The authors cannot prove that AV block is caused by higher blood pressure or glucose levels — but they can show that there is a link.
Chan, who was not involved in the study, stated that AV block was diagnosed in a “very small” percentage of patients.
Raul Weiss is a cardiologist who is also a professor of clinical medicine at The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus. He said that the results are an observational study and should be considered with caution.
It’s a good starting point for further research, such as on the relationship between glucose levels and heart disease.
“I happen to believe that blood glucose has something to do with heart block and arrhythmias,” stated Weiss, who was not involved in the study. “This is probably the first study to show that.”
Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing heart disease
Around 3 million people have pacemakers worldwide, with 600,000. Implanted every year. A majority of people require one due to arrhythmias, including AV block.
Most commonly, AV block is caused when there is damage to the heart tissue.
Gelfand stated that this causes normal cardiac tissue to become connective tissue, which is known as fibrosis. This can disrupt the flow of electrical signal from the top to the bottom chambers of your heart.
Chan stated that not all forms of AV block need treatment. If there are no reversible causes, pacemaker implantation is the best treatment.
Implanting pacemakers is a common procedure and they are low-risk, but complications can occur.
Weiss stated that a pacemaker is a good thing to have in case you need it. He pointed out, however, that pacemakers can also pose risks. These include infection at the site of implantation and damage to nearby blood vessels.
Weiss stated that being able to lower the number of patients who require a pacemaker could have a significant impact on healthcare costs as well as the patient’s lives.
People should eat healthier and exercise more regularly to lower the risk of developing AV block.
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Doctors may have difficulty convincing patients to make the changes, particularly when it comes down to managing blood pressure and glucose levels — which are both silent killers.