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Guidelines Eased for Patients With Irregular Heartbeats
Date:12/20/2010

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Leading U.S. cardiac experts have relaxed the recommendations for strict heart rate control in patients with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to strokes.

More lenient management of the condition is safe for many, according to an update of existing guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (AHA).

Atrial fibrillation, stemming from erratic beating of the heart's two upper chambers, affects about 2.2 million Americans, according to the AHA. Because blood can clot while pooled in the chambers, atrial fibrillation patients have a higher risk of strokes and heart attacks.

"These new recommendations advance the many options we have available to treat the increasing number of people with atrial fibrillation," said Dr. Ralph Sacco, AHA president and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"Health-care providers and patients need to be aware of the many more options we now have," Sacco added.

Under the new recommendations, treatment will aim to keep a patient's heart rate at rest to fewer than 110 beats per minute in those with stable function of the ventricles, the heart's lower chambers. Prior guidelines stated that strict treatment was necessary to keep a patient's heart rate at fewer than 80 beats per minute at rest and fewer than 110 beats per minute during a six-minute walk.

"It's really been a long-standing belief that having a lower heart rate for atrial fibrillation patients was associated with less symptoms and with [better] long-term clinical outcomes and cardiac function," said Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California Los Angeles. "But that was not subject to a prospective, randomized trial."

Patients suffering from symptoms of rapid heart rate will still need treatme
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