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Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a medical disorder that affects the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atrias. People with AFib experience irregular heartbeats caused by abnormal electrical signals in the atria.

The electrical impulses erroneously circulate through the atria, causing the atria to contract with an irregular rhythm and fast rate. Different areas of your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or in an uneven rhythm in response to the AFib.

When the lower chambers of the heart, known as ventricles, beat too quickly during AFib, this is known as AFib with a rapid ventricular response.

Paroxysmal AFib is the name for AFib that happens occasionally and usually stops on its own. These transient episodes are usually brought on by a specific trigger. Recognizing triggers and avoiding them can help you manage AFib effectively.

Some of the most common triggers include

  • hormones
  • medication
  • sleep apnea
  • caffeine

Chronic inflammation in the body is one of the key triggers of AFib. There are a lot of things that can cause inflammation.

Some of the main causes of inflammation include:

  • an infection (like bronchitis)
  • an autoimmune disease (like diabetes or IBD)
  • prolonged stress
  • an unbalanced diet
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • sleep apnea

Some lifestyle changes can help ease inflammation in many people. These include:

  • a focus on an anti-inflammatory diet that incorporates lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
  • better sleep
  • self-care

Advanced age is one of the biggest triggers of AFib. It’s one of the most common reasons for an irregular heartbeat in people over 65, and 70 percent of people with AFib are between the ages of 65 and 85.

People who use drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamines, or opiates are 35 to 86 percent more likely to be at risk for developing AFib. The longer a person uses these drugs, the more likely they are to experience an irregular heartbeat.

Research from 2014 points that people experiencing estrogen imbalances, such as post-menopausal people or those receiving hormone treatment, may be at a greater risk of experiencing AFib. But more research needs to be done.

Additional research from 2014 shows that older men (80 years and above) living with testosterone deficiency are at risk for experiencing AFib as well.

People living with obesity are at a greater risk of developing AFib. This is due to a few reasons, including the prevalence of visceral fat surrounding the muscle layer of the heart.

The condition of obesity can also increase inflammation both around the heart and in the rest of the body. It can contribute to the development of certain chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

If you have AFib, talk with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements.

Cold medications and nasal spray decongestants that contain either phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine 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.

A 2012 study in The American Journal of Cardiology explores a possible link between alcohol consumption and vagal tone, and its role in AFib.

Vagal tone is the level of activity of the vagus nerve, a long nerve that runs from the brainstem through the neck and below, and it affects various organs, including the heart.

People whose AFib is triggered by alcohol consumption are also more likely to experience increased vagal activity that leads to transient atrial 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, drinking a lot of caffeine can generate an AFib event.

Each person, however, is different. If you feel that caffeine makes your arrhythmias worse, steer clear of coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas.

Smoking can be very detrimental to your overall health, and that includes increasing your risk of developing AFib. In fact, according to a 2018 analysis, in a study of 11,047 participants, smoking was associated with a 15 percent increased risk of AFib during 10 years of follow-up.

Another study mentioned in the same analysis found that cigarette smoking was linked to a 40 percent increased odds of AFib development in women.

One important thing to note is that the 2018 analysis also found that quitting smoking was tied to a lowered incidence of AFib development.

When it comes to atrial fibrillation triggers, each person’s experience will be different. Just because a person is living with obesity and occasionally takes certain cold medicines doesn’t mean they’ll definitely develop AFib. It all comes down to your personal health history.

If you’ve already received a diagnosis of a type of AFib, awareness of your health and of the situations that may potentially provoke an episode plays a large role in controlling your symptoms.

If you believe you may be dealing with AFib, don’t wait to talk with a doctor. Do it sooner rather than later, because the more you know, the quicker you can take steps to find relief.


Once my AFib has been triggered, what methods are available to quickly restore the normal sinus rhythm?


If you know the trigger that led to your episode of atrial fibrillation, such as forgetting to take medication to reduce blood pressure or being in a stressful situation, addressing it may help resolve the AFib episode quickly.

Under supervised physician care in a hospital setting, electrically shocking the heart with synchronized electrical cardioversion can quickly put the heart back to normal sinus rhythm. This, however, may not permanently stop another AFib episode from occurring,

There are different types of intravenous medications that physicians can administer to a person with AFib in an attempt to chemically cardiovert AFib to normal sinus rhythm. The effectiveness may vary depending on the person and their overall individual state of health.

Knowing your AFib status and discussing treatment options with your physician, should your episodes become more frequent or severe, will help you address the best approach to treating your AFib.

Stacy R. Sampson, DOAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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