Some Surprising A-fib Triggers

by | Sep 15, 2020

Atrial Fibrillation (A-fib or AF) is the most common Arrhythmia amongst Americans and can lead to increased risk of stroke and sudden cardiac death. Symptoms can include any one or more of the following:

Chest pain, heart palpitations (pounding, racing, noticeable irregular heartbeat), Fatigue, Weakness, Difficulty breathing (especially while lying down or with activity), Dizziness.

Though symptoms can go unnoticed, most people know at least a few of the common triggers. Knowledge of these and a few lesser known triggers can help you be a better advocate for yourself and lower your risk. A few of the more common A-fib triggers include alcohol, smoking, exercise and certain over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Let’s take a look at some of the less common ones listed below.

ariel shot of a city covered in smog

1. Emotional, Mental, and Job-related stress

The link between mental health and with A-fib has been established in a number of studies. According to John Day, MD, a cardiologist specializing in the treatment of A-fib and other abnormal heart rhythm conditions at the Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, “research has shown that on days when people are feeling very anxious, stressed, or angry, the likelihood that their heart will go out of rhythm is significantly increased.” Job-related stress, or “job strain,” was associated with nearly a 50 percent increased risk of A-fib according to a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 

Appropriately, what’s going on in our lives often manifests in the heart. Depression, anxiety, anger and stress are all a part of this according to Dr. Day. It’s imperative to pay attention to our mental, emotional, physical and relationship health! We hope and pray this is one good thing that comes from our bizarre 2020 year of Covid-19. With the forced slow down, hopefully we’ve used some of that time to take inventory and made positive changes and even sacrifices for an overall better and healthier self.

2. Air Quality and Environmental Factors

Would you believe that exposure to poor air quality in the last 24 hrs can lead to an increased risk of A-fib?! Some studies suggest that exposure to traffic-related pollution over an extended period of time also contribute to a higher risk of A-fib. Our recent fires in CA, OR, and WA state are another reason to take extra precaution and heed the warnings of POOR AIR QUALITY. For more details on how the wildfires can affect our health, check out this article on Everyday Health

3. Certain foods and beverages

These can vary from person to person. Some people have reported that cold beverages or ice cream can trigger an A-fib episode for them. Others have found the certain foods, like Chinese, causes increased episodes. The take away is to be cognizant of what foods trigger any of the above mentioned symptoms and avoid them when possible. It seems coffee and tea lovers have lucked out, in moderation of course. Coffee used to have a bad reputation as an A-fib contributor but more recent studies have found that moderate coffee consumption is safe. In fact, some studies have found that coffee and tea may even help protect against A-fib! Can I get an Amen on that?!

4. Too much physical exercise or the wrong kind of exercise

Ok, not a problem for here, LOL, but the key to healthy exercise is regular and moderate. By regular, ideally 5 days a week (yikes) and by moderate, preferably an exercise you can carry a conversation while doing.

Rigorous exercise can actually cause an A-fib episode. Examples of excessive exercise are a very strenuous hike, long distance running, very high-impact aerobic exercise. Hopefully you know your body well enough to pace yourself. If you don’t, most people start with walking and build on the length or pace of that walk as you progress. Heart rate monitors are built into many of our phones now but there’s plenty of options out there to help monitor your heart rate.

A-fib is often referred to as a lifestyle disease in the medical community. A balanced diet, regular exercise and managing your weight are all key to reducing risk of A-fib. Not always easy but take heart, you’ve got company. We’re all in this together!

man running on paved street from the waist down

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