Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a medical disorder that primarily affects the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart. People with AFib experience intermittent irregular heartbeats caused by abnormal electrical signals in the heart. The electrical impulses may erroneously circulate through the heart, causing the atria to contract in an irregular pattern. Your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or in an uneven rhythm.
Many people who have AFib suffer from episodes brought on by a specific trigger. Recognizing triggers and avoiding them can help you manage atrial fibrillation effectively. Here are some of the most common AFib triggers:
Fatigue and Illness
Sleep deprivation, physical illness, and recent surgery are common triggers for AFib. Whenever your body isn’t running at 100 percent, you’re suffering from physical stress. Stress makes the abnormal electrical activity in your heart more likely to occur. Eating well-balanced meals and getting enough sleep each night, especially when traveling, is crucial for people who have AFib.
Emotions play a role in many bodily functions. When you’re upset or sad, you might lose your appetite. Being stressed can lead to tight muscles and soreness. Fright, anxiety, or extreme happiness can cause your heart to race or make you feel like you heart has skipped a beat. The range of strong emotions you experience in certain situations can also trigger AFib episodes.
The normal fluctuation of hormones may trigger AFib in women. Stanford University Hospital and Clinics explain that heart arrhythmias, the medical term for an irregular heartbeat, increases in many women with previously diagnosed menstruation problems. Perimenopausal women are also likely to see an increase in AFib around the time that their periods stop.
In rare cases, an increase in physical exertion can bring on signs of an AFib event. Still, exercise is a healthy habit for almost everyone to embrace. A 2008 issue of Circulation lists exercise as a positive lifestyle adjustment that helps patients cope with atrial fibrillation. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.
If you have AFib, talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements. Cold medications and nasal spray decongestants are common culprits for some people with heart arrhythmias. Your doctor can tell you if specific medications are safe for you to use, or suggest suitable alternatives.
Alcohol, including beer, wine, and spirits, is also a known AFib trigger. Some people experience symptoms from just a drink or two, while others don’t feel adverse effects in a cardiac sense unless heavy drinking is involved.
The American Journal of Cardiology reports a possible link between alcohol consumption and vagal tone, and its role in AFib. Vagal tone is the level of activity of the vagus, a large nerve in the neck. People that have alcohol triggers of AFib are also more likely to experience increased vagal activity that leads to fibrillation episodes.
The idea of caffeine as a trigger for AFib is surrounded by controversy in the medical world. Caffeine is a known stimulant that can invigorate your central nervous system and raise your heart rate. For some people, this can generate an AFib event.
But recent studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that caffeine may not be the definitive trigger as previously believed. Female coffee drinkers in the study didn’t experience an increase in AFib episodes. Each person, however, is different. If you feel that caffeine makes your arrhythmias worse, steer clear of coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas.
You may have an AFib event if you’re dehydrated. A change in fluid levels in your body can affect a number of bodily functions, including heart function. Exhaustion, a change in eating patterns, and physical exertion can bring on dehydration in some situations. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks also dry you out, increasing your risk even more. Good hydration habits include drinking plenty of water throughout the day, especially in hot weather or when you exercise. Watching your salt intake can also help you avoid dehydration.
Although many AFib triggers are common, each person’s experience is unique. It may take a period of “trial and error” to determine what your personal triggers are. Awareness of your condition and of the situations that can potentially provoke an episode, along with medications, play a large role in helping you control symptoms and living a healthy life.