April 24, 2014

Does Stress Cause Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is so sneaky. So is afib really stress in disguise? Afib seems to sneak up on you when you least expect it and you wonder “where did that come from?” It’s hard to pin down an atrial fibrillation cause or trigger when it’s different every time.

For some, it’s triggered by alcohol or caffeine. For others, by certain types of foods or food additives. For some, it may come on during exercise or from something as simple as bending over. For still others, eating late or sleeping on the left side triggers it. It varies all across the board.

In medical information you rarely see mention of stress causing afib, but I think that stress is a huge contributor. Of the patients I’ve interviewed, about 3/4 said that stress was a huge component in bringing on their afib episodes.

Stress certainly could be a factor that leads us to indulge in alcohol, caffeine, or certain foods. But is the food the cause, or is the stress the actual root cause?

Here’s a short video clip of what triggered my afib:
Mellanie True Hills talks about what triggered her atrial fibrillation

We know that the numbers of folks having afib is growing exponentially, which is generally chalked up to Baby Boomers hitting their 60s. But I also see so many younger folks struggling with afib and wonder if the stress epidemic that’s due to our 24/7 lifestyles is causing an afib epidemic, too.

What do you think? Does stress trigger afib for you?

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Comments

  1. Elaine says:

    Diagnosed with lone AF on Sept. 30th. I was walking downtown on my usual errand route when my heart rate shot up. I called 911 and the paramedics told me my heart rate was 210 bpm. After I failed to convert on adenosine, I was taken to the local hospital and admitted. I converted chemically four hours later while eating dinner. Most terrifying experience I’ve ever had. Here were my stressors in the months leading up to that event, in no particular order:
    *Losing a job when my boss retired abruptly. Since I was an indepdendent contractor, filing for UI insurance wasn’t an option.
    *Nearly losing my car and apartment due to job loss.
    *Lack of sleep from all the emotional stress.
    *Taking on a job in a grocery store; moving large trains of carts several times a day, for hours on end. Lots of walking, lifting of heavy items. No chance to physically recover between shifts.
    *Catching the flu a week before the afib event.
    *Continuous emotional stress in the months leading up the event: job loss, death in the family, financial stress, GERD, poor sleep.
    The docs in the ED told me I was low on potassium and magnesium. I received 3 grams potassium, 2 grams mag by IV, along with other drugs.

    ECHO came out normal, and of course, ECG was a mess due to afib.
    What scares me about all this is that I may have had an episode during a heat wave last summer, but wrote it off to anxiety. It eventually passed, but I have tow wonder…was it afib?

    Hoping to never have another episode. I have no risk factors, other than my stress level and GERD. The treatments for afib terrify me. Hoping to pursue food allergy testing and accupuncture if I can afford it. I’ve stopped doing a lot of the things I love because I don’t want to end up in the ED again.

    I really hope researchers can nail the the cause of afib soon; I’m terrified most of the time now.

    • mmoss says:

      Elaine,

      Thanks for sharing your story. It does seem like you have endured quite a bit of stress. You may be interested in joining our StopAfib.org Discussion Forum. To post or ask questions, you’ll need to register. Instructions for registering and getting started are here.

    • Karen Weisbaum says:

      I have had a-fib for over 5 years and go in and out about every 3 months or so. Don’t know whether I have sleep issues but do know stress has been related in one way or another: bumpy plane ride, loss of eldest son, arguing with other son, theme park ride, and finally exam for school.
      I was on meds for it but it made me severely anemic. When I discontinued the meds I had a stroke a few weeks later. I refuse to go back on drugs as when I have any surgery I need to stop them thus I am at a risk of stroke.
      I have to take migraine medication to ward off headaches and rarely drink anything with caffeine. Keep my sodium as low as possible also.
      I leave it up to God!

    • Jerry says:

      Wow, sounds very similar to the on set of my afib.
      I lost my mom on her 71 birthday, job loss, eviction, divorce, bankruptcy, and 4 trips to the ER all followed in a 7 month span. I can no longer do the things I enjoy…bike riding, community theater, dancing, etc. I never know when an episode will strike…my cardiologist feels strongly it is anxiety related, along with genetics.
      I currently engage in yoga and deep breathing exercises which seem to help somewhat.

  2. kibrom says:

    Ihave sudden some time and for 20 year when i was 20 years happening Heart Atria fibrillation at the present i taking pre day always but now day to day increase the problem os please support me how to sulve the problem.

  3. ipvinder says:

    Thanks everyone for sharing your valuable experience. My mom 60 yrs had two episodes of A Fib. Knowing the progressive nature of this disease has left me anxious. Looking for more valuable input in living and handling this.

  4. demihan says:

    I have had af for about 15yrs,I put it down to stress I can actually pinpoint the time it started,it was job connected,but of cause stress elevates the blood pressure,I have had a bout of shingles so had to rest the bp was totally normal no af’s and I felt relaxed,coffee always gives me ectopics if I over indulge,plus tea,too bigger meal can also do it,So I suppose its lifestyle we are talking about,also I am a baby boomer,my father died of a coronary,so I have to start to think seriously about lifestyle and relaxing more ,great site this I have learnt so much from it ,daphne mihan

  5. Tom Reedy says:

    July 2013. I suffered A-Fibs for 3 years. Repeated strong bouts now fully cured. Cardiologist was only ever prepared to offer me RF Ablation. Instead, I got our holistic family physician to do a 100 food type allergy test (blood test) through Alletess Medical Laboratory, Norwell, MA Tel (800) 225 5404. Everything fell into place. I discovered strong allergies to gluten, malt, eggs, almonds and a few other things. My diet was causing me fore years to have frequent acid reflux, and also a “sore” oesophagus. Whenever I ate, I`d get bloating, reflux, belching and several hours of A-Fibs. In addition, work issues were stressing me out. I got right off all of the allergenic foods and I started a stress reduction program with regular accupuncture. After two weeks, my reflux dissipated, my sore oesophagus slowly recovered and my energy came back. The bouts of A-Fibs melted away. I researched my suspicion that somehow the reflux and sore oesophagus were likely affecting my Vegus Nerve. This nerve follows the oesophagus for a lot of its routing. The Vegus Nerve is crucially important in maintaining our heart rate and rhythm. It is connected to the nerve sinus node on your right atrium…which if “disturbed” causes A-Fibs to happen. As my oesophagus settled down, so did my vegus nerve, and so did my A-Fibs. When I told my cardiologist about the connection between my stomach, acid reflux, sore oesophagus and A-Fibs he very reluctantly admitted to a known connection.
    Conclusion: if you get A-Fibs, spend the $100 on the food allergy blood test. Get off those allergens (competely.!) and reduce your stress. Get rid of your reflux (forget antacids, changing your diet is the only remedy – Damn I had to stop drinking beer!) and I guarantee that most peoples A-Fibs will slowly cease as their stomach digestion, reflux and oesophagus recover. Good luck folks. Tom Reedy.

    • Jeff N. says:

      Tom, that is great news. I am in that boat. Having been on acid suppression (prilosec) for over a decade, due to sore esophagus and reflux. Now diagnosed with A-Fib this past April. Have lost much of my appetite, and since not eating so much I’ve stopped the Prilosec, but will see how much that helps. Also been taking magnesium as prilosec blocks the absorption of that, and that is linked to A-Fib!

      During the bad bouts I’m ready to schedule an ablation. But will look into a food allergy test. Stress does not seem to be a factor and actually when I am stressed or exercising, I notice I am in a sinus rhythm. It’s eating, or after exercising that my heart takes off.
      Anything else you’d suggest? Thank you for posting.

    • Joseph Manganaro says:

      Tom, thank you for your insight. About eight years ago every time I swallowed food my heart would skip beats when it passed a certain spot in esophagus. Right by Venus nerve. Doctors never could put two together. Thru stress reduction it went away eventually . Lately started to have frequent skip beats. Never connected what happen 8 years ago. Heart monitor showed nothing serious doc said to relax not life threatening. Wake up one night shortly after in full a fib. Taken in ambulance to hospital. Thought that was it. Scariest moment of my life. Put me on blood thinners and changed beta blocker. Still getting skip beats and waiting for next bout. Venous nerve makes so much sense Got to get off this blood thinner. At least I have direction to go . Thank you. Will update in a month if this is main cause. Joe

  6. Tahira Khalid says:

    For me it was my excessive dose of thyroxine and aging heart that led to fibs.

  7. Fibber McMee says:

    OK. I think I’m on to something regarding triggers. After a cardioversion, I was afib free for one and a half years. Suddenly a week ago, I awoke in the middle of the night with reflux, bloating and almost throwing up. Along with it, my afib came back with a vengeance, and I can’t convert to NSR – even after a cardioversion.

    I lost 65 pounds, and swam a lot, and I think that kept me afib free.

    I won’t bore you with a long story, but essentially I got off track with my plan, and now believe the following to be true causes (again from my research).

    1. Holiday stress

    2. NSAIDs for back pain.

    3. The first alcohol in 2 years.

    4. A spike in my uric acid from missing my antigout medicine, the alcohol, and high fructose corn syrup in the holiday treats. The uric acid/afib connection possibility I read about was new to me

    5. A terrible diet and no exercise, having been immobilized for several months post surgery for something else.

    6. The reflux and the bloating, caused by the NSAIDs and the alcohol (and the holiday treats).

    Which one was the tipping point, I don’t know, but the GERD and digestive track upsets were the final factor. they have triggered them before.

    • CSmith says:

      I hadn’t had an Afib event in months. Several week ago I had on and again today. The event several weeks I believe the triggers may have been the following:

      1: a very heavy meal really late at night and two glasses of wine. The AFIB event started with reflux and bloating.

      The not sure what trigger the event today: two pancakes for breakfast and one cup of coffee (this is some what of a norm). I noticed that I was seeing stars when I put my head done around noon and shortly there after I was in AFIB.

    • Joyce Nash says:

      I have had Afib for about 12 years. Started when my mother who had dementia and my step dad moved in with us. Loved them both but got no sleep and one night after a heavy meal, started with afib. Was on meds for years then started my Afib diary.
      My husband is a vet so he mentioned that horses get problems with heart palpitations when they are low on potassium.
      So, I started making a banana, blueberry, yogurt milkshake every morning. I also cannot eat much at night but I slowly increased my exercise, did not drink at night and felt better. Took two years to get off the meds. I get AFib infrequently now. I also try to keep the high wheat products to a minimum though I love bread and pasta seems to be a problem, ? if gluten is problem too. I feel so glad to be off the meds since I always felt low and like my heart was beating so slowly that I never had any breath. I have a good friend who has just started with serious Afib, but refused to moderate or change his life and what surprises me is that the doctors haven’t worked with him to change.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Does Stress Cause Atrial Fibrillation? | Atrial Fibrillation BlogWhen I eat profusely, I feel extra sistoles that could lead to afib episodes. Sodas and gas drinks tend to contribute too. I drink no alcohol, so that’s one less. I hope everyone is fine. Cheers from Argentina. [...]

  2. [...] you’re a Blackberry addict or a stress junkie, which can contribute to atrial fibrillation, you may be interested in this new article in which Mellanie True Hills, founder of StopAfib.org, [...]

  3. [...] many of us grab some coffee when we’re stressed? Could it be stress, not coffee, that’s the [...]

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