February 27, 2015

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?



  1. I have had very mild A-Fib for many years, but really just diagnosed recently by a specialist. I am hypothyroid and think that plays a part. Also stress and caffeine. Dr thinks I need ablation treatment. I am 80 and in good health otherwise, I just retired in July. My husband also has A-Fib and is having trouble with memory. We are strong and have a solid relationship and faith. I am currently on some meds but have a terrible time at night. No A-Fib, but really crazy things going on in my body. Tingling and numbness of ankles and feet. Surges of heat and pressure in upper torso…..etc. Help

  2. Red wine and yogurt are possible triggers for paroxysysms for Afib.
    I just got paroxysysm after 4 years lasted approx 5 hrs.self terminated.Possible trigger chicken legs marinated in yogurt the night before.Am on metropolal low dose and pradaxa =blood thinner.Am 71 and working


    Hi Everyone

    Well just had my first attack EVER on Tuesday early morning . Wife rushed me into hospital where they did all the tests and xray of chest and cane to the conclusion of Afib.

    So where did this come from

    Now I know I always had this in mild form but put it down to wind.

    Last two weeks had terrible cough

    Never been so stressed in my life as opening new business , finally opened on Saturday with massive success , on Monday night said to my wife I feel so much happier now , early Tuesday morning got Afib LOL.

    So last two days meds not ready still (beta blockers ) starting to feel but better so might not take these

    Docs want me to go on blood thinners ? Think I will give that a wide berth.

    Stopped the smoking straight away

    Going to get a full heart scan to see if anything in there not right , ASAP even if it costs me

    Your comments would be helpful,


    • Brit, thanks for sharing your story. Congrats on your business. That is a stressful endeavor to begin, but it sounds like it’s going well. You may want to look into your stroke risk to understand why your doctors are interested in your taking anticoagulants. The CHA2DS2-VASc seems to be the most accurate stroke risk calculator we have available to us.

      You may also be interested in joining our afib patient discussion forum. Instructions for how to sign up are here. Our active forum is full of others who have been managing their afib, and they may be happy to share with you their experiences with afib.


      • Steve Shilkin says:

        Regardless of what the experts, cardiologists et al may say, it seems that stress is the trigger. however after 12 years of High blood pressure that seems to have no cause other than stress, having had a renal ablation procedure, every drug ever I finally got put on a paraxatine- serotonin reabasorber and the BP dropped. however after 3 months of stress and inordinate amount of long haul airtravel AF struck big time! [had small bouts before] this time it wouldn’t go away. theory; its sugar and stress. the sugar from alcohol and food [ one drinks more when traveling?!] then the system causes more urination to get rid of the high trglyceride level and with it goes sodium and potassium. The docs think I am crazy when I say that a banana and half a teaspoon of salt fixes it in about 30-45minutes. I remembered that when I played a lot of sport I was super susceptible to cramps through loss of salt. I also believe that the vegas nerve may be a bigger contributor to AF than realised. this can be affected by neck and shoulder injuries. any thoughts out there?
        Steve S 61 yr old bloke; ps exercise seems to stop my AF?

        • Steve,
          Thanks for sharing. Many people have shared similar stories regarding stress possibly causing or contributing to their afib. Exercise also acts differently for patients. Some go into afib while exercising, and others come out of afib while exercising. It’s certainly perplexing. You may be interested in joining our afib patient discussion forum. You can find details for getting started here.

        • DonnaQuixote says:

          Wow, Steve, your experience seems to be like mine. I too find rehydrating and going sugar free (tough for me), bananas, and sugar free electrolyte drinks, and salt to be helpful. Anything dehydrating is harmful (sodas, diet and regular), tea, coffee (even decaf). And although my afib has left me very intolerant of exercise (my heart immediately races and becomes irreg) sometimes when I have to keep going even though my afib is bad…it gets better. Also I believe the vegus nerve to be involved. I sometimes gently rub circles over my abdomen when in afib and it seems to help. And there are connections between the vegus nerve and the eyes, nose and carotid areas so not surprising shoulder and neck injuries would be problematic. When will this ever all be explained?

  4. Micheal Pugh says:

    I have Afib (found in August 2000)(Lone Atrial Fib( I have rare incidents (1-2 times a year) up until 2005-7, I was having them every few months. I started out with Cardizem, than they upped the Cardizem (worked till about 2009). I have been on Multaq and Pradaxa since 2009 and the episodes are about 1-2x a year again till recently, I just had 2 attacks in 2 months.
    My attacks always happen at the same time, upon waking up, I have never had it happen any other time.
    I am currently trying to find a device that I can wear 24×7 to see if I am having episodes at night. There is an Iphone device, but you have to manually use it. I would like to have something that I can wear at all times and have it linked to my phone or my home computer and track my heart.

    Just wanted to share my story

  5. hello everybody was diagnosed with artial fibrillation 8 days ago woke up out of my sleeep heart was racing got up to 140 bpm i thought it was anxiety come to find out i was wrong they put me on a asprin and medication and the side effects are horrible im scared to go to sleep depression is starting to set in they keep telling me at the hospital that i have nothing to worry about but the symptoms are making me think otherwise keep getting bubbly feeling in my chest then a big burp comes out i dont know what to do what other options do i have

    • call your doctor and change your meds. I was taking metaprolol and it made me feel like crap. Changed to cardizem and feel much better.

      • Does a fib go away

        • You may want to see your doctor about your afib specifically. Afib generally is described in one of three categories: 1) lone afib, or a singular event; 2) paroxysmal, or intermittent afib; and 3) Persistent or permanent afib. We cannot know which kind of afib one may be experiencing, so it’s best to ask your cardiologist or EP.

      • Hi try to ovoid medication I have been doing yoga and it helps it. I just had a trigger lasted 4 days is I crap feeling but I did take the blocker codoron but I only take the dose if the trigger doesn’t go away I try sport during the stage biking swim or running all slow pace the can trigger normal again

    • Mike, examine the stressors in your life over the past 2 years and see how many changes you have gone through. Are you facing any major decisions in your life. Do you like your job. How is your relationship with your wife, family, friends, co-workers? Stress and over exertion can trigger an episode. I too have had irregular heartbeats and skips. When I get them they are due to overexertion or stress, but i have learned how to reset the button and relax. By meditating and being aware of the stress connection it is possible to regulate your heartbeat…

  6. I am going to see my Cardiologist this morning. I have the new phone app that takes my EKG, so I am ready to experiment with meds, stress, exercise, wine, sex, diet etc and see how the EKG changes. I have come to the conclusion that all of these things are good with moderation and the middle way. The Chinese herbalist gave me a mixture to drink, that includes dried earthworms, and I have seen an improvement in my EKG when I triple the dose, There are promising studies on the Chinese herbal combination Xin Wen Keli, and in my concoction he says has that and more. I think the flecaidine increases my heart rate, but it seems to have worked also. Causes for me have included stress and my manic lifestyle, with the work hard party hard mentality. So now I strive for calmness and patience, and have developed the mentality of work and party in balance and determined calmness. I still do the things I have done, with some exception, but with greater calmness and less flittiness. I was a social butterfly. Funny, all those words sound like flutter. Now I am becoming a social horse or something with a calm heartbeat.

  7. Patricia K Nabours says:

    More confused than ever reading these. I was diagnosed in 1975 with ventricular tach and aFib. I was a super athletic happy kid, no drugs, alcohol or stress. Meds helped for years but cardioversions never keep me in rymthm . during surgery threw a clot through my heart and became pm dependant after av node ablation and defibrillator in 2005. Left vent quit in 2011 so new pm/defibrillator and third lead replacement. Last summer AFib returned with a vengeance and the last six months have been a struggle to maintain a normal life. Work full time, have a family and was active. A second ablation has been suggested. Echo and TEE revealed a spot on my left vent. Negative cultures for endocarditis. Constant sob, lethargic, dizzy, miserable, cannot pin down what makes it worse but sure that nothing makes it better. CHF and ejection fraction are horrible, I keep moving and fighting but it has become a miserable time ,,,afraid to drive afraid to be alone with grandbabies, swim, exercise, ridevhorses or be alone, exhaustion is never ending. I have never been afraid before but do not want my babies in danger!

  8. Hi,I just came across this web site. and it is nice not to be alone in this.2 years ago I went to bed and woke up in AFib.My. heart rate was 300.I had been fine before this.Well it was caused by my Thyroid,I have Hashimotos Thyroiditis.That started it.A couple of months ago,my cardiologist asked how was I feeling and I said fine.Seems I had gone into fulltime AFib,don’t know why but because of that ,I had to go on Coumadine.Not happy about that.So anything
    can put you in it.
    I wish they had safer drugs to treat this, can’t take any of those new drugs like Pradaxa.Zarelto,etc.
    Pluse they r not that safe.Well just thought I would share…

    • Kelly, thanks for your comment. You may be interested in sharing your story on our Atrial Fibrillation Patient Discussion Forum, and here are instructions for registering.

      • It’s a great help to read the comments of fellow sufferers. I have had AFib the last 7 years but did not know the medical term for this until fairly recently. I am a female of 63, a marthon runner and certainly not overweight. My very slow heart beat was attributed to my fitness levels but where I live at the moment on a game farm in Botswana I am no longer able to train for long distances. Yet my heart beat remains under 50 and the AFib has become worse. There is no clear explanation for these symptoms as I am the picture of healt. My biggest fear is that I will suffer from a stroke and become unable to run and walk and pursue the active and positive lifestyle I enjoy ao much

        • I hear you. I’m a 62 year old and have been a very competitive marathon runner for 35 years. Out of the blue this afib shows up and there are times I can’t run a mile without stopping. I wake up in the morning hoping it was all a just a bad dream. Some days are good and others aren’t. My HR hovers in the 45-55 bpm range and have always had great BP. Never thought I’d be a cardiac candidate, but here I am. Thought I was doing everything right.

  9. I am currently in AF. It started last night when i went to bed. I ended up taking extra medication to see if that would calm it down. It did for a while, but it has come back. I think the trigger for this bout is that I have had a bad cough which I think is stressing my heart. I am currently at work waiting for my doctors appointment. Hopefully I will not need to go to the hospital. I dread that.

  10. I
    I am suffering from AF as you call it at the moment. I started a new job last summer and have struggled to pass my probation, which I have now done, thankfully. I should be less stressed and think I am but am left with this AF. I am overweight and feel quite frightened, want to drop the excess weight as its not doing me any good. Wondering about Bach Flower Essences. I have quite a triggering boss and this makes me very fearful. I intend to get back to swimming and I am doing more walking. I hope it’s not storing up more trouble for the future. I do find these times stressful due to all the means by which we are supposed to be available to people electronically. Anyway, I am feeling relieved to have found a forum to be able to share these thoughts on. Bach Flower Essences does a blend for emotional overeaters which I want to purchase and I have been imbibing the one for those who feel terror. The triggering boss takes me back to terrors of my childhood unfortunately. Thanks for reading this if you have.

    • Hi. Sorry to hear you’re suffering from afib. Some people do feel some relief with weight loss. You may be interested in joining our discussion forum to talk about this afib-related issue and many others. To join in on the discussion, go to Forum.StopAfib.org. Instructions for signing up are located in the top section, “Getting Started & FAQ.”

  11. I am more convinced now that stress is a huge factor for afiv. My first episode occurred in Nov. 2013 and as many others, I had lots of stress at work. My superior was very demanding and what was worst, he is bi-polar and would have mood changes daily. He would forget what instructions he gave and would expect us to do things immediately if not sooner. My episode lasted a week and the chest pressure was present, I would loose my breath even when showering, climbing 6 steps to my front door was a task. I would work out 6 days per week and when this condition surfaced, I could only exercise for 5 minutes and would be out of energy.
    My boss threatened my job every chance he had and I feared him being in the building with us. I wish that employers would get better educated and the only way for this to happen is by having the government mandating training for the employers (mangers) and their HR departments.

  12. 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

    • 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

  17. Tahira Khalid says:

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

  18. 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.

    • 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.


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