HEALTHY LIVING
01/09/2013 12:45 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2013

Metabolic Stress Identified As Possible Risk Factor For Atrial Fibrillation

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By Alysha Reid

A disruption in oxygen flow to the heart -- called metabolic stress -- has been identified as a possible risk factor for atrial fibrillation, according to a new study.

Atrial fibrillation is a common form of heart disease that causes abnormal heart rhythms, commonly recognized by those who experience as fluttering, uneven heartbeat patterns. About 2.2 million Americans live with this condition, which may occur in the presence of preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure and chronic lung disease.

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Scientists from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom examined key proteins, called KATP channels, that contribute to electrical activity in the upper chambers of the heart, also known as the atria. They found that metabolic stress changed the electrical activity of KATP channels and, in turn, led to abnormal atrial heart rhythms.

This is the first time that metabolic stress has been linked to irregular heart rhythms in the upper chambers of the heart. Previous research had confirmed metabolic stress as a trigger for irregular heart rhythms in the bottom chambers of the heart, the ventricles.

KATP channel-blocking medication is often used to manage type 2 diabetes, since these proteins also regulate insulin secretion. So when researchers applied KATP channel-blocking type 2 diabetes medication (glibenclamide and tolbutamide) to rat hearts, they completely reversed the KATP channel's metabolic effect on heart rhythm. They hope this discovery leads to more effective treatment for atrial fibrillation.

The study was published November in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.

"Researchers Identify a New Atrial Fibrillation Risk Factor" originally appeared on Everyday Health.

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