London: Yoga improves quality of life in patients with abnormal heart rhythm, according to a new study which also found that heart rate and blood pressure decreased in patients who took part in the meditative practice.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac rhythm disorder, affecting 1.5 to 2 per cent of the general population in the developed world. "AF episodes are accompanied by chest pain, dyspnoea and dizziness. These symptoms are unpleasant and patients feel anxious, worried and stressed that an AF episode will occur," said Maria Wahlstrom from Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
There is no cure for AF, and management focuses on relief of symptoms and the prevention of complications such as stroke using cardioversion, ablation and medication, researchers said.
Patients with paroxysmal AF experience episodes of AF that usually last less than 48 hours and stop by themselves, although in some patients they can last up to seven days. The current study included 80 patients with paroxysmal AF who were randomised to yoga or a control group that did not do yoga.
Both groups received standard treatment with medication, cardioversion and catheter ablation as needed. Yoga was performed for one hour, once a week, for 12 weeks in the hospital with an experienced instructor. The yoga programme included light movements, deep breathing, and meditation.
Quality of life, heart rate and blood pressure were measured in all patients at the start and end of the study. Quality of life (physical and mental health) was assessed using two validated questionnaires, the Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the EuroQoL-5D (EQ-5D) Visual Analogue Scale (VAS).
After 12 weeks, the yoga group had higher SF-36 mental health scores, lower heart rate, and lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure than the control group.
"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 Wahlstrom.
"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," she added. Within the yoga group, both the EQ-5D VAS scores and SF-36 mental health scores improved during the study, while there was no change in the control group between the initial and final measurements, researchers said.
"Yoga may improve quality of life in patients with paroxysmal AF because it gives them a method to gain some self control over their symptoms instead of feeling helpless," said Wahlstrom.
"Patients in the yoga group said it felt good to let go of their thoughts and just be inside themselves for awhile," she said. The findings were published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing....