MONDAY, Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- A hoped-for effect of fish oil supplements in preventing an irregular heartbeat that often follows heart surgery did not materialize in a major new trial.
Fish oil capsules with omega-3 fatty acids given in the days before and after surgery failed to stop the post-op onset of atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia that can raise patients' odds for stroke.
The international trial of more than 1,500 patients "is important to provide a definitive answer that [fish oil] does not reduce atrial fibrillation in that setting," said study lead author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.
His team presented the findings Monday in Los Angeles at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association. They are also being published simultaneously online Nov. 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have become popular supplements due to their supposed beneficial effect on health. According to preventive cardiologist Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, the omega-3 in fish oil has also "been associated with anti-arrhythmic effects," helping to keep the heart's rhythm regular.
"About one in three patients do have atrial fibrillation after undergoing cardiac surgery, which often results in long hospital stays," Steinbaum noted, so it was reasonable to wonder if giving patients short-term doses of fish oil might reduce their risk.
In the new study, Mozaffarian and colleagues recruited 1,516 cardiac surgery patients, average age 64, from the United States, Italy and Argentina. For between three to five days prior to their scheduled heart surgeries, the patients got either fish oil capsules or an inactive placebo, and were also given double the amount of the capsules after their surge
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