December 4, 2016

Can Avoiding Dehydration Prevent Atrial Fibrillation “Holiday Heart Syndrome”?

Avoid dehydration

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The holidays seem to bring on lots of atrial fibrillation, often attributed to a condition called “Holiday Heart Syndrome”, which is supposedly caused by consuming too much alcohol and caffeine during the holidays. This year, can we avoid afib caused by Holiday Heart Syndrome? I think so, by avoiding dehydration. Here are my thoughts about this issue.

Holiday heart probably results from many things added up over the extended holiday season, some of which may include:

  • Overindulging in alcohol due to a concentrated period of holiday celebrations. Alcohol dehydrates us.
  • Consuming more coffee and other caffeinated beverages to keep us going despite a lack of sleep and more to do than we can do during the holidays. Coffee and caffeinated beverages can dehydrate us.
  • Cold weather and indoor heat. Both of those dehydrate us.
  • Flying to see family and friends, or for ski, beach, or other holiday vacations. Flying dehydrates us a whole lot because the humidity level on planes is generally less than 10%.

Add up all this dehydration, along with the stress of the holidays and frequent overindulging in sugars, chocolates, flour (gluten), and fats, all of which are considered triggers by many people in the afib community, and you have a recipe for more holiday afib. So what can we do about it?

Here are a few of my rules of thumb, not just for the holidays but for all of the time:

  • For every alcoholic beverage consumed, have an equal amount of water, or even better, twice as much water.
  • Drink lots of water (or club soda) during flights to avoid dehydration caused by the very low humidity levels on board. For me, that means 6–12 ounces of water for every hour in the air. Yes, that means more trips to the restroom, but that has benefits, too, in that it gets your legs moving and decreases your risk of blood clots in the legs due to deep vein thrombosis (also called “economy class syndrome”).
  • During flights, avoid alcohol, or consume 2X–3X as much water as alcoholic beverage. It’s easy if you pace yourself with one sip of alcoholic beverage followed by several sips of water.
  • In cold weather, especially when ice and snow are on the ground, drink more water than usual. Under normal conditions, 64–80 ounces of water per day is considered enough, but more is needed when weather conditions are dry and dehydrating. This also applies at high altitudes and in the desert.

Just an extra personal anecdote for those traveling long distances by air during the holidays, or any time… I think that jet lag is largely due to dehydration. I believe that a little bit of extra salt on long flights helps with hydration. At least it does for me. Everyone is different, so before trying this, discuss it with your doctor, especially if you have high blood pressure. This is just my opinion, and I know that salt is politically incorrect these days. This is not an everyday practice, but I believe it is warranted in unusual circumstances such as this, especially for those without high blood pressure.

Thus, here are a couple of my personal favorite jet lag “cures”:

  • A margarita, with a little bit of salt, just after a very long international flight. I’m not sure if it’s the lime juice, tequila, or hydration aided by salt and all the extra water I drink with it, but it seems to work well for me in quickly getting over jet lag from long international flights.
  • A couple of large bottles of Gerolsteiner, a mineral water from Germany, when I return home. (I get it at Whole Foods, but it is probably available elsewhere.) While on business in Germany recently, there was Gerolsteiner mineral water everywhere, and I delighted in indulging in it. Interestingly, I had no jet lag when I got home from that trip.

I’ll admit that, having been afib free for over 6 years, maybe I’m just a bit fanatical about staying hydrated, especially since I no longer have my left atrial appendage, which plays a role in thirst regulation. (It is typically removed or closed off in mini maze surgery as it generates 90% of afib clots). But if being fanatical helps keep the afib beast at bay, it’s so worth it. [She stops writing and slugs down more water.]

Another fanatical thing I do to keep the afib beast at bay is to consistently treat my sleep apnea, but that is a whole other story for another day.

On this blog, we wrote earlier about whether alcohol and coffee are really the culprits they are portrayed to be in causing atrial fibrillation? You can read those articles at Does Alcohol Put You at Risk for Atrial Fibrillation? and The Role of Coffee in Atrial Fibrillation.

Could it actually be that it’s not the alcohol and coffee at all, but instead is the dehydration that they can bring on if we don’t have enough water with them? So can we decrease afib by staying fully hydrated? I think it’s worth a try.

Please let me know below what you think, and about any experiences you have with this, especially during the holiday season.

Here’s hoping these simple ideas for staying hydrated during holiday travel and feasting can get you through the holidays with no afib.

Wishing you a happy and afib-free holiday season.

Mellanie True Hills and
The StopAfib.org Team

Comments

  1. I am so happy to get all the information about dehydration. I truly feel that this is what triggers my Afib. My last blood test indicated that I was dehydrated, but the test for my electrolytes indicates that they are within normal range. I don’t understand how this can be. Can you explain this to me? Thanks so much for your help!

  2. Christina Lau says:

    Thank you for sharing, everyone. I had realised that caffeine has a strong trigger to the Afib & particularly the green tea. In my case, it worsened when I had forgotten to take the usual dose of Xarelto.
    I didn’t know that gluten & chocolates are also strong trigger. Will be on the look out for these foods from now on.

  3. Ken Sturmer says:

    Funny that you call it “Holiday Heart” Seems this has happened to me last Thanksgiving, Christmas and this past Easter. However i gave up caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol shortly after hearing that they were Afib triggers. I wonder if it’s not simply the stress of holidays, that brings on the Afib. I am pretty careful to stay hydraded, living in a hot climate here in Florida.

  4. Kim Nolan says:

    So happy to find all of you.. over the past year I have had 3 or 4 episodes of tachycardia after alcohol consumption. The first time was after a summer party, the others after a 2-3 glasses of red wine, being tired, stressed and even trying a cigarillo at a martini bar for “fun”. Well …. turned out to be not so much fun. I can give up coffee, and vodka easily, but the wine will be tough. I am 52 yo and have never had this before. It seemed to resolve quickly the first 2 times(w/i a couple hours), but the last 2 it seemed to last longer. I have not been to the doctor abut this, but may make an appointment. I am also in the throes of peri-menopause and was wondering if hormonal changes can exacerbate the problem. It is so intermittent that it is a bit frustrating. I drank my way through Portugal one week, and then have a vodka martini and almost went to the ER. Will definitely hit the water…but what gives?? Feel like my body is betraying me.

  5. The hydration issue is key with preventing afib. Or at least controlling it. I ended up in the emergency one morning after working out with a very erratic fast beating heart. They used drugs to bring it down, even put me through a cardio-conversion, but it took a long time to get it regular. Hindsight, I remember that they were pumping me full of liquids after being admitted. I had the same thing happen again twice….it was after eating way too much and consuming a very tasty mango(sweet) margarita. I woke up each time with my heart pounding so erratically that I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. I sat down with a glass of water and within an hour my rhythm was normal and below 60 bpm. This usually happened after I knowingly did not drink much water that day. Probably because peeing every 45 minutes can be a challenge.
    Now I start the day with water, drink throughout the day, and drink a small glass before bed. Yes I pee constantly but my rhythm and rate is normal.

    • Brenna Lara says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding the connection between your afib and staying hydrated throughout the day. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions, and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

      • I can’t believe I’m just learning about the connection between dehydration and afib. I’ve had afib off and on for over ten years. An ablation 5 years ago kept me symptom free for the last 5 but it’s started up again. Just today I noticed that when I drank water my afib stopped. I am going to drink lots of water from now on and hope this continues to help
        Me..

        • Brenna Lara says:

          Thank you for sharing your afib story and your symptoms. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story and questions there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions, and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

  6. Sherwood Ross says:

    Besides the alcohol and caffeine, skip the chocolates. A single Tootsie Roll once put me in the hospital. Stress is another factor; take relaxation exercises a couple of times daily and immediately at the first sign of an A-fib. Take your blood pressure first thing each morning and if it is high work on the relaxation. High BP can easily trigger an A-fib episode. Be sure to exercise in moderation, avoid salt, especially when dining out, and get enough sleep. Keep a daily log of your BP and also track any A-fibs. Try to understand what you did to cause an A-fib, the better to avoid any repetition. When you notice an A-fib make a straight line to the nearest water faucet. See if the frequency of A-fibs doesn’t diminish.

    • Brenna Lara says:

      Hi Sherwood,

      Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts concerning your afib and alcohol, caffeine and chocolate. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

  7. James Ross says:

    I have been doing battle with the AF beast for 12 years now. I am 62 years old. I have experienced up to 4 episodes in one month, and I have also gone a full year to the day without a single episode. For the past 12 years I have kept a record of all these instances. I have found there is 1 common denominator with all these ‘triggers’ (alcohol, stress, coffee, long flights, fatigue, colds and cold medications, winter heat sources, dry air)…they all tax the bodies hydration reserves, just like this article says. It’s the hydration level of the body that really counts. After dehydration takes place it’s then just a game of dominos as the body struggles to take up magnesium (an already deficient electrolyte in over 80% of our western population) and other critical electrolytes with not enough cellular hydration, and the chemical processes that support healthy heart function quickly start unravelling. As the author points out, for someone who is prone to A-Fib, being fanatic about hydration becomes a necessary thing. I cannot think of one instance of Atrial Fib that I had that I was not in some way dehydrated. Dehydration caused by stress is a big one and one that most people are not aware of, and how much and how quickly the body dehydrates when it is under stress. It takes only hours, not days…and then add a nice relaxing glass or two of red wine to that or a nice cold beer or 3, to help calm our stressed out nerves and for the person with any kind of AF history, you suddenly have the ‘perfect storm’. So folks, when you think it’s the stress, think dehydration, when you think it’s the alcohol, think dehydration, when you think it’s the coffee, think dehydration, when you think it’s the lack of sleep, think dehydration, when you think it’s the big festive Christmas or New Years meal you had, think dehydration (digesting a high protein (turkey, ham, etc) uses huge amounts of water reserves from your body), When you are over 50 years old and your body has a harder time to stay hydrated anyway, you can see every glass of vodka you drank the night before written in lines upon your face the next morning. That’s pretty fast dehydration. It would be folly to think that this dehydration does not stress the electrical function of the heart.

    • Brenna Lara says:

      Hi James,

      Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts concerning your afib and dehydration. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

  8. Jacqueline Berghorn says:

    Forgot to mention I’ve also Benn on Whole30.com 4 months n what a Great change in everything!

  9. Jacqueline Berghorn says:

    I have been AFIB FREE 3 years, and only Drink Alcohol socially out to dinner, party, n one drink only I find if I drink water before during n after never had an issue … same with flying lots of water. I prefer La Croix Curate Cerise Limon flavor n Dasani plain…and always wear compression socks for flights n long standing/Walking…

    • Brenna Lara says:

      Hi Jacqueline,

      Thank you for sharing your story concerning your afib and what you do to lessen the negative effects. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

  10. gladys humphrey says:

    what is your experience with chocolate? I had 2 drinks last Christmas and experienced Afib for weeks. I sure won’t do that again

    • Brenna Lara says:

      Hi Gladys,

      Thank you for sharing your story concerning your afib and your thoughts on the relation between afib and chocolate/caffeine. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

  11. Robert Duffy says:

    Do not drink alcohol or coffee they are AFIB best friends,

  12. Tom Johansen MD says:

    Thank you for proposing an interesting idea. I have noticed a possible association with dehydration and recurrence of AF for myself. Regarding caffeine, two recent meta- analyses of multiple studies suggest that caffeine exposure does not lead to AF and may actually be protective. My take on these analyses is that some people may benefit from caffeine and others not so much. How to know? (I mix decaf and regular 50-50). In my experience, alcohol is to be avoided.
    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/818993
    http://www.onlinecjc.ca/article/S0828-282X(13)01761-3/abstract
    http://www.spc.pt/DL/Home/fm/CaldeiraD_AFCaffeine_Heart.pdf

    • Brenna Lara says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thank you for sharing your story concerning your afib and your thoughts on the relation between afib and dehydration, caffeine and alcohol. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php?) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

  13. My rules are as you stated: No sugars, chocolates, flour (gluten), and fats, all of which are considered triggers by many people in the afib community. It is worth it to go free of these foods!

  14. William Del Busto says:

    Wow, it’s amazing to know how many people here agree that Dehydration plays a big part in Atrial Fibrillation. I am a 36 year old male who’s experienced 3 Afib episodes in the last 8 years. At first I thought it was brought on by high levels of anxiety since I am a very active and electrical person but I quickly found out that it wasn’t. My first 2 Afib episodes were triggered the day after a series of binge drinking. Basically I would drink on Saturday night and on Sunday mornings I would begin with the discomfort. The last episode I got was on a weekday going home from work feeling normal. After this last episode I started to think and try to link all three to one specific trigger. It obviously wasn’t the alcohol that was triggering it but In fact the dehydration that alcohol causes. Just so happens that day going home from work was on a Friday night and I had told my wife the day before how I hadn’t been consuming enough water throughout the week. When I got to the ER the doctor even told me that I was slightly dehydrated meaning that very small drops of liquids in my body could be the trigger for Afib. Furthermore, a few months ago I decided to visit an Electrophysist and he also informs that Dehydration is a very high trigger for Afib. Now, just like many of you I pump myself with water throughout the day and if I play sports I don’t forget my Gatorade which helps with the electrolytes.

    • Brenna Lara says:

      Hi William,

      Thank you for sharing your story concerning your afib and your thoughts on dehydration. You may be interested in joining our patient discussion forum (http://forum.stopafib.org/index.php?) to connect with other patients who collectively have a great amount of knowledge and experience. You may want to post your story there, and you may also learn a lot from others who have already shared their experience. I hope that you are able to find others to connect with there that can give you advice, suggestions and hope. There are many resources on living with afib that you might find helpful. Best of luck to you! We wish you sinus rhythm.

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