"This book is incredibly complete and easy-to-understand for anybody. I certainly recommend it for patients who want to know more about atrial fibrillation than what they will learn from doctors...."

Pierre Jaïs, M.D. Professor of Cardiology, Haut-Lévêque Hospital, Bordeaux, France

"Dear Steve, I saw a patient this morning with your book [in hand] and highlights throughout. She loves it and finds it very useful to help her in dealing with atrial fibrillation."

Dr. Wilber Su Cavanaugh Heart Center, Phoenix, AZ

"Your book [Beat Your A-Fib] is the quintessential most important guide not only for the individual experiencing atrial fibrillation and his family, but also for primary physicians, and cardiologists."

Jane-Alexandra Krehbiel, nurse, blogger and author "Rational Preparedness: A Primer to Preparedness"


"Steve Ryan's summaries of the Boston A-Fib Symposium are terrific. Steve has the ability to synthesize and communicate accurately in clear and simple terms the essence of complex subjects. This is an exceptional skill and a great service to patients with atrial fibrillation."

Dr. Jeremy Ruskin of Mass. General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

"I love your [A-fib.com] website, Patti and Steve! An excellent resource for anybody seeking credible science on atrial fibrillation plus compelling real-life stories from others living with A-Fib. Congratulations…"

Carolyn Thomas, blogger and heart attack survivor; MyHeartSisters.org

"Steve, your website was so helpful. Thank you! After two ablations I am now A-fib free. You are a great help to a lot of people, keep up the good work."

Terry Traver, former A-Fib patient

"If you want to do some research on AF go to A-Fib.com by Steve Ryan, this site was a big help to me, and helped me be free of AF."

Roy Salmon Patient, A-Fib Free; pacemakerclub.com, Sept. 2013

Sleep apnea

My Top 5 Picks: Steve’s A-Fib Survival Kit for the Newly Diagnosed

By Steve S. Ryan, PhD

Your first experiences with Atrial Fibrillation have changed your life in a number of ways. As a former A-Fib patient (cured since 1998) I highly recommend these items when first diagnosed with this beast called ‘Atrial Fibrillation’.

 My Top 5 Recommendations for the Newly Diagnosed

These are the products I recommend (and use) along with a Bonus: a good medical dictionary. These items are available from many online sources, but I’ve made them easy to order by making a ‘Wish List’ on Amazon.com. (Note: Use our Amazon portal link, and your purchases help support A-Fib.com.)

Magnesium Mg Drs Best1. Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium (200 Mg Elemental), 240-Count

Most A-Fib patients are deficient in Magnesium (Mg). While Magnesium (Mg) is one of the main components of heart cell functioning, it seems to be chronically lacking in most diets.

One form of easily absorbed magnesium is Magnesium glycinate, a chelated amino acid. Look for the label ‘Albion Minerals’ designed to limit bowel sensitivity. Dosage: 600-800 mg daily in divided dosages (meals and bedtime). Read more about Magnesium.

Potassium NOW bottle2. Now Foods Potassium Gluconate Pure Powder, 1-pound

Just like magnesium deficiency, A-Fib patients are usually deficient in Potassium as well. We recommend the powder in order to take the recommended dose of 1600-2400 mg per day.

Be cautious of potassium tablets. For example those listed as 540 mg ONLY contain 99 mg of Potassium. Read more about Potassium.

BYA cover3. Beat Your A-Fib: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Cure: Written in everyday language for patients with Atrial Fibrillation

A-Fib can be cured! That’s the theme of this book written by a former A-Fib patient and publisher of the patient education website, A-Fib.com. Empowers patients to seek their cure. Written in plain language for A-Fib patients and their families.

Polar FT2 Heart Rate Monitor at A-Fib.com4. Polar FT2 Heart Rate Monitor, Black or Blue

Many A-Fib patients want to monitor their heart rate when exercising or doing strenuous tasks (mowing the lawn, moving equipment, etc.) This is a basic DIY model with a clear, LARGE number display of your heart rate (as a number). Requires wearing the included T31 coded transmitter chest strap.

One-button start. Includes a FT2 Getting Started Guide.

Also look at other Polar models: FT1 & RS3000X. I wore a Polar monitor when I had A-Fib, so it’s my brand of choice, but there are many other good brands.

Oximeter image5. Facelake Fl400 Pulse Oximeter

Many A-Fib patients also suffer with undiagnosed sleep apnea. A finger Oximeter is an easy way to check your oxygen level. A reading of 90% or lower means you should talk to your doctor as you may need a sleep study.

Oxford Med DictionaryBONUS: Concise Medical Dictionary (Oxford Quick Reference)

An excellent medical dictionary, the best I’ve found for patients with Atrial Fibrillation who are conducting research into their best treatment options. Includes occasional illustrations (for fun check p. 276 for the types of fingerprint patterns).

Learn More about…

For more suggestions, see my Amazon.com ‘Wish List’ By a Former A-Fib Patient: My Recommended Products.

A-Fib Support Volunteers at A-Fib.com

Learn about our A-Fib Support Volunteers

Our A-Fib Support Volunteers: Just an Email Away

After being diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation, it’s helpful to talk with someone who knows what you are going through, someone you can turn to for advice, emotional support, and a sense of hope that you can be cured. That’s the role of our A-Fib Support Volunteers.

They offer you support and encouragement through exchanging emails and sharing their stories. (Not all Support Volunteers are ‘cured’ of their A-Fib, but have found the best outcome for their situation.) Learn about our world-wide network and how to contact one or more of our volunteers.

Wonder if You Have Sleep Apnea? At-Home Testing Option

WatchPat device product image

Photo: Itamar Medical patient brochure

At least 49% of all patients with A-Fib suffer from Sleep Apnea as well. With untreated Sleep Apnea, you have a greater chance of a more severe form of A-Fib and increased risk of recurrence after a successful catheter ablation.

Everyone with A-Fib should be tested for sleep apnea. Traditionally this has involved an overnight stay in the sleep lab.

But now there’s an alternative! You can test at home with the WatchPAT™ device.

The WatchPAT™ is an FDA-approved wrist-worn sleep study device you can use in the comfort of your own bedroom to determine if you have sleep apnea. (PAT is short for Peripheral Arterial Tonometry [pressure measurement].)

Multiple studies have shown there is a high correlation of the WatchPAT with sleep indexes such as the respiratory disturbance index (RDI) and the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), compared with the same indexes measured by the normal sleep test PSG.

If you think you may have untreated Sleep Apnea: read my full review.

The Year in Review: Highlights and Achievements

By Steve S. Ryan, PhD

When I think about the field of atrial fibrillation in 2013, several thoughts come to mind. There were technical advancements, some new drug therapies, and additions to our understanding of Atrial Fibrillation (and a few accomplishments for our A-Fib.com website).

Heart Imaging And Mapping Systems

Perhaps the most important technical innovations in 2013 for A-Fib patients were the introduction of two new heart imaging and mapping systems. A third system, the Bioelectronic Catheter, represents a whole new technology with tremendous potential for A-Fib patients.

Patients wearing 'vest' lies down for the ECGI.

The ECGI System

The ECGI system, combined with a CT scan, produces a complete 3-D image of your heart along with identifying all the A-Fib-producing spots. Think of it as an ECG with 256 special high resolution electrodes rather than 12. It greatly reduces your ablation time and your radiation exposure.

A day before your ablation, you simply don a special vest with 256 electrodes covering your upper torso, and lay down. The 3-D image created is a road map of your heart with all the focal and rotor areas (A-Fib-producing spots) identified. During your ablation your EP simply ablates the “guilty” areas. Read more of my article…

Topera-FIRMap catheter - three sizes

The FIRM System

The FIRM system uses a different approach to mapping the heart and the A-Fib producing spots. It uses a basket catheter inside the heart to map large areas in a single pass and reveal the location of foci and rotors. Read more of my article…

Why are these two technologies important? ECGI allows your imaging & mapping to be performed the day prior to your ablation, rather than during your ablation. This shortens the length of your ablation procedure.  In addition it reduces your radiation exposure and produces remarkably accurate 3D images of your heart and identifies where A-Fib signals are coming from. The FIRM system, though performed during an ablation rather than before it, may be a significant improvement over the Lasso catheter mapping system now in current use. Both systems may mark a new level of imaging/mapping for A-Fib.

Flexible Biomechanical Balloon Catheter - photo credit: Dae-Hyeong Kim-University of Illinois

Stretchable Electronics Meets the Balloon Catheter

The merging of living systems with electronic systems is called “bioelectronics”. Key is a flexible, pliable circuit made from organic materials—the carbon-based building blocks of life. Bioelectronics have entered the EP lab with a prototype of a ‘bioelectronic catheter’, the marriage of a pliable integrated circuit with a catheter balloon.

In a mapping application, the deflated bioelectronic balloon catheter is slipped into the heart, then pumped up. The inflated integrated circuit conforms to the heart’s grooves and makes contact with hard-to-reach tissue. It can map a hundred electrical signals simultaneously, across a wider area and in far greater detail than had been previously possible. And it’s being developed to function in reverse. For ablation applications, instead of detecting current, it can apply precise electrical burns. This is a potentially breakthrough technology that may well change the way catheter mapping and ablation are performed. (Thanks to David Holzman for calling our attention to this ground-breaking research article.)

This is a remarkable time in the history of A-Fib treatment. Three very different technologies are poised to radically improve the way A-Fib is detected, mapped and ablated. We’ll look back at 2013 as a watershed year for A-Fib patients.

Three New Anticoagulants

In 2013 we saw three new anticoagulants, a welcome development for A-Fib patients. Note: the new anticoagulants are very expensive compared to the proven anticoagulant warfarin.

pradaxa_logo 150 pix 96 res Eliquis apixiban logo 150 pix 96 res Xarelto logo 150 pix 96 res

How do they compare to warfarin?

Warfarin seems to have a slightly higher chance of producing intracranial bleeding.
In general stay away from Pradaxa. There are horrible ER reports of patients bleeding to death from even minor cuts, because there is no antidote or reversal agent. Read more about my Pradaxa warning

Eliquis, in general, tested better than Xarelto in the clinical trials, but it’s so new we don’t have a lot of real-world data on it yet. And, as with Pradaxa, neither have antidotes or reversal agents.
In addition, there was what some consider a major problem with the clinical trials comparing the new anticoagulants to warfarin. ‘Compliance’ rates by warfarin users were poor (many either weren’t taking their warfarin or weren’t in the proper INR range). Did this skew the results?

And finally, unlike warfarin where effectiveness can be measured with INR levels, we don’t have any way to measure how effectively the new blood thinners actually anticoagulate blood. Read more of my article Warfarin vs. Pradaxa and the Other New Anticoagulants“.

Keep in mind: ‘New’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’ or ‘more effective’ for You.

A-Fib with high blood pressure?

High Blood Pressure with Your A-Fib? Is Renal Denervation a solution?

As many as 30% of people with A-Fib also have high blood pressure which can’t be lowered by meds, exercise, diet, etc. There was hope that Renal Denervation would help.

With Renal Denervation, an ablation catheter is threaded into the left and right arteries leading to the kidneys, then RF energy is applied to the nerves in the vascular walls of the arteries, hopefully reducing ‘Sympathetic Tone’, lowering high blood pressure and reducing A-Fib. For many people Renal Denervation seemed the only realistic hope of lowering their high blood pressure. However, the Medtronic Simplicity-3 trial indicated that renal denervation doesn’t work. Read more of this article…  For 2014 news on this topic, read more…

A Study of Obesity and A-Fib: A-Fib Potentially Reversible

Apple and tape measure - weight loss 200 pix by 96 resObesity is a well known cause or trigger of A-Fib, probably because it puts extra pressure and stress on the Pulmonary Vein openings where most A-Fib starts.

In 2013 A research study report focused on obese patients with A-Fib. Those who lost a significant amount of weight also had 2.5 times less A-Fib episodes and reduced their left atrial area and intra-ventricular septal thickness.

Good news! Losing weight can potentially reverse some of the remodeling effects of A-Fib. Related article: Obesity in Young Women Doubles Chances of Developing A-Fib.

Data collected in a typical sleep study

Obstructive Sleep Apnea and A-Fib

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is another well recognized cause or trigger of A-Fib. Anyone with A-Fib should be tested for sleep apnea.

Earlier studies have shown approximately two-thirds (62%) of patients with paroxysmal or persistent A-Fib suffer from sleep apnea. In 2013, research reports showed that the worse one’s sleep apnea is, the worse A-Fib can become. In addition, sleep apnea often predicts A-Fib recurrence after catheter ablation.

Before an ablation, Dr. Sidney Peykar of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute in Florida, requires all his A-Fib patients be tested for sleep apnea. If they have sleep apnea, they must use CPAP therapy after their ablation procedure.

A-Fib.com: Our New Website’s First Year

A-Fib_com logo The original A-Fib.com web site was created using the phased out software MS FrontPage. Thanks to a  “no strings attached” grant from Medtronic, A-Fib.com was reinvented with a more up-to-date but familiar look, and features more functionality (built on an infra-structure using Joomla and WordPress). We can now grow the site and add features and functions as needed.

It involved a tremendous amount of work. A special thanks to Sharion Cox for building the new site and for technical support. My wife, Patti Ryan, designed the look and all graphics. (I can’t thank Patti enough; I’m so lucky!)

A-Fib.com Project:
Update the Directory of Doctors & Facilities

Steve and A-Fib.com bulk mailing to update the A-Fib.com Directory of Doctors and Facilities

Back when I started A-Fib.com in 2002, there were less than a dozen sites performing ablations for A-Fib. Today our Directory of Doctors and Facilities lists well over 1,000 centers in the US, plus many sites worldwide.

Increasingly, doctors were writing me asking why they weren’t included, or why their info was incorrect since they had moved, etc. To update our records and our service to A-Fib patients, starting in July 2013, we prepared and mailed letters to over 1,000 doctors/facilities. We asked each to update/verify their listing (and include a contact person for our use).

Note to Doctors! If you haven’t updated your listing in our A-Fib.com Directory of Doctors and Facilities, just use our Contact Us form to email me and I’ll send you the form to fill in and return.

The response to our bulk mailing was great. The data input started in October and continued for several months (as time allowed). Recently, we cut over to the ‘new’ Directory menu and pages.


2014 PREVIEW A-Fib.com

What’s Ahead for A-Fib.com in 2014

2014 Boston AFib Symposium Reports: Check out my new reports from the 2014 Boston A-Fib Symposium (BAFS) held January 9-11, 2014 in Orlando FL.

The first two reports are posted. Look for more reports soon. I usually end up with 12-15 reports in total.

Steve and bulk mailing to update the A-Fib.com Directory of Doctors and Facilities

Our a-Fib.com Directory of Doctors & Facilities: Work on updating our listings is still underway. We need to contact those who did not respond to our request for verification or updating of their listing. (Shall we write again or maybe make phone calls?)Beat Your A-Fib by Steve S Ryan, PhD

Amazon Best Sellers list:  Our book sales continue to grow. Did you know that our book ‘Beat Your A-Fib’ has been on Amazon’s Best Sellers list continually in two categories (Disorders & Diseases Reference and Heart Disease) since its debut in March 2012? Visit Amazon.com and read over 40 customer reviews.

Help A-Fib.com Become Self-sustaining: We plan to step up our efforts to make A-Fib.com a self-sustaining site. (Since 2002, Steve and Patti Ryan have personally funded A-Fib.com with an occassional reader’s donation.)

Help UsRemain Ad-Free

Amazon.com button

Bookmark this link!
Spreadshirt shop= Beat your a-fib - 4 piece 240 x 150 at 96

Visit our shop at Spreadshirt.com.

In our efforts toward sustainabiliy, several years ago we added a PayPal ‘Donate’ button (you don’t need a PayPal account to donate) and invited donations toward our onlline maintenance costs.

Then, a year or so ago, we added a portal link to Amazon.com. When you use our Amazon.com link, A-Fib.com receives a small commission on each sale (at no extra cost to you).

Our newest effort is our ‘A-Fib can be Cured! shop with T-shirts and more at Spreadshirt.com. With each shirt purchase $2 goes to support A-Fib.com. (We will roll out new designs every quarter or so).

Posted February 2014

Help A-Fib.com become self-sustaining! Help keep A-Fib.com independent and ad-free.
Will 2014 be the year you help support A-Fib.com?

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Last updated: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sleep Apnea—New At-Home Testing Option

At least 49% of all patients with A-Fib suffer from Sleep Apnea as well. With untreated Sleep Apnea, you have a greater chance of a more severe form of A-Fib and increased risk of recurrence after a successful catheter ablation.   Everyone with A-Fib should be tested for sleep apnea which involves an overnight stay in the sleep lab. Now there’s an alternative—you can test at home with the WatchPAT™ device.

If you have untreated Sleep Apnea, your chances of having a more Read more.

Sleep Apnea: Home Testing with WatchPAT Device and the Philips Rspironics

Itamar Medical: Managing Sleep Apnea GFX

Photo: Itamar Medical patient brochure

by Steve S. Ryan, PhD

At least 43% of patients with A-Fib suffer from Sleep Apnea as well.1  (In Sleep Apnea your breathing stops while you’re sleeping). It is now established that Sleep Apnea and A-Fib are correlated.

If you have untreated Sleep Apnea, your chances of having a more severe form of A-Fib or of not benefiting from an A-Fib treatment are greater. After a successful catheter ablation, people with sleep apnea have a greater chance of A-Fib recurring.

In a normal test for sleep apnea, you to go to a hospital-like room, put on cumbersome sensors, then try to go to sleep in this unfamiliar environment. And this test isn’t cheap. It requires extensive monitoring to measure airflow, chest/abdominal movements, electromyography, electrocardiography, and oxygen saturation levels. The formal name for this test is polysomnography (PSG).

The WatchPAT™ Device


Photo: Itamar Medical patient brochure

The WatchPAT™ is an FDA-approved wrist-worn sleep study device you can use in the comfort of your own bedroom to determine if you have sleep apnea. (PAT is short for Peripheral Arterial Tonometry [pressure measurement].)

It assesses respiratory disturbances and indirectly detects sleep apnea by measuring volume changes in the peripheral arteries along with pulse oximetry (oxygen desaturation) and respiratory arousals. (When you have sleep apnea, your breathing often stops till you have to gasp for breath. This is called “respiratory arousal.”)

Multiple studies have shown there is a high correlation of the WatchPAT with sleep indexes such as the respiratory disturbance index (RDI) and the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), compared with the same indexes measured by the normal sleep test PSG.


Philips Respironics Alice NightOne Sleep Apnea Test

Added 7/21/16: Singular Sleep.com features a different home use system for determining if you have sleep apnea. Developed by Dr. Joseph Krainin, MD, Singular Sleep offers home sleep testing in 24 states (new states are being added regularly), as well as online sleep doctor telemedicine consultations. They use the Philips Respironics “Alice NightOne Sleep Apnea Test” which features a belt that goes around your chest with a nasal cannula which you place in your nostrils and a Pulse Oximeter which you wear on your finger. This system can test both for obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. See https://singular sleep.com. Many people diagnosed with sleep apnea have trouble using or tolerating a typical CPAP breathing device. Dr. Krainin specializes in helping people adopt to or find the right machine or device to stop their sleep apnea. He is available for consultation in 24 states in the US.




Editor’s Comments:
Everyone with A-Fib should be tested for sleep apnea. Talk to your EP. With the WatchPAT device there is no excuse for not doing a sleep study. It’s easy. You just strap the WatchPAT on your wrist and put the sensors on your fingers, then go to sleep.
If your EP doesn’t have the WatchPAT device for you to use, contact Itamar Medical which produces the WatchPAT. They can usually connect you with an EP in your area who uses the WatchPAT. Website: www.itamar-medical.com; email: infousa@itamar-medical.com. Itamar’s North American number is 888-748-2627; their worldwide number is +972 4 6177000.

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Last updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

References for this Article
References    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Bitter, T. et al. Sleep-disordered Breathing in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation and Normal Systolic Left Ventricular Function. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2009; 106(10): 164-70  http://www.aerzteblatt.de/pdf/di/106/10/m164.pdf. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2009.0164

About Recurrence of A-Fib After Successful Catheter Ablation

by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, June 2014

Ed Grossman recently wrote and asked me about recurrence of A-Fib after a successful catheter ablation:

Recurrence of A-Fib After Catheter Ablation“I’ve read studies from the French Bordeaux group that talk about A-Fib recurring after a catheter ablation, that A-Fib tends to come back. Can A-Fib be cured permanently by a catheter ablation? After a successful catheter ablation, what are my chances of A-Fib recurring?”

The French Bordeaux group pioneered the original Pulmonary Vein Isolation procedure.

The studies you refer to were done in 2001-2002 with 100 patients. There’s been a great deal of improvement in the procedure since then, such as the use of irrigated tip catheters and the increased use of circumferential pulmonary vein isolation (PVI). (For example, when I had my procedure done in Bordeaux in 1998, they did what was then called a focal ablation in only one of my pulmonary vein openings. I’ve been A-Fib free “cured” for 16 years. Today though, they routinely isolate all four pulmonary veins.)

Don’t let the threat of recurrence put you off of having a catheter ablation. Recurrence is often influenced by several factors unrelated to the actual catheter ablation procedure, some of which you can control.

Certain Health Conditions Cause Recurrence of A-Fib

There are health conditions which tend to cause A-Fib to recur including hypertension, obesity, sleep apnea, diabetes, smoking and binge drinking. Controlling these conditions will reduce the risk of recurrence.

For example, let’s say patient “Joe” has A-Fib and sleep apnea, then has a successful A-Fib ablation and is A-Fib free. Because of his sleep apnea, Joe’s A-Fib is more likely to recur than someone without sleep apnea. So much so, that Electrophysiologists (EPs) today are insisting that A-Fib patients with sleep apnea be treated and use devices like a CPAP breathing machine before they can get a catheter ablation. In one study sleep apnea was an independent predictor for catheter ablation failure after a single procedure.

Also, those with long-standing persistent A-Fib, or those with vascular heart disease, or cardiomyopathy are more likely to have a recurrence.

Less recurrence for those with Lone A-Fib

Around 50% of A-Fib patients have no apparent pre-existing medical condition—called “lone A-Fib” because there’s no other contributing health condition. After a successful catheter ablation, those with lone a-fib are less likely to have a recurrence. But some lone A-Fib patients do have recurrences. (Some studies estimate a 7% chance of recurrence out to five years, though most recurrences occur in the first six to 12 months.)

So why the recurrence for lone a-fib patients? Heart tissue is very tough and tends to heal itself after an ablation. Or, there may be gaps in the ablation lines and the spots may require a touch-up ablation (usually with a much shorter procedure time and easier to perform than the first ablation).

The joy of Years of living in ‘Normal Sinus Rhythm’

Let’s discuss a worst-case scenario. You have a catheter ablation that makes you A-Fib free. Then three years later you develop A-Fib again. But the bottom line is you’ve been “cured” for three years. (The dictionary defines “cure” as “restoration of health; recovery from disease”.)

Most people with symptomatic A-Fib are overjoyed to have a normal heart beat and a normal life for three years, to be freed from both A-Fib symptoms and from the anxiety, fear and depression that often accompany A-Fib.

(See the personal experience stories by patients who had recurrence and a successful second ablation: Jay Teresi, “In A-Fib at Age 25 and Robert Dell’s A-Fib Experience: “Daddy is always tired”.)

Only people with A-Fib appreciate how wonderful it is to be in ‘Normal Sinus Rhythm’ (NSR). For most of us, catheter ablation provides “acceptable” long-term relief from A-Fib. And it’s comforting to know, you can go back for another ablation, if you need it.

Catheter Ablation is the Best Hope for a “Cure”

Today, catheter ablation is the best A-Fib treatment offering hope for a “cure”—for making you A-Fib free. Current medications, for the most part, don’t work or have bad side effects or lose their effectiveness over time. Electrocardioversions usually don’t last. Surgical approaches work, but are generally more invasive, traumatic, and risky, and not recommended as first-line therapy for A-Fib.

Yes, A-Fib can return after a catheter ablation; the benefit may not be permanent. But, as a point of reference, consider heart by-pass operations or heart stents—are they always permanent? (Often they aren’t.)  Do patients need additional surgeries? (Often they do.) With the option to return for an additional or “touch-up” procedure, catheter ablation is still today’s best hope for a life free from the burden of Atrial Fibrillation.

References for this Article

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Return to Index of Articles: Catheter Ablation

Last updated: Monday, August 17, 2015

What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?

Causes of Atrial Fibrillation, A-Fib, afib, a fib

Causes of Atrial Fibrillation

What are the Causes of A-Fib?

It’s estimated as many as 5.1 million people in the U.S. have A-Fib. By the year 2050, the number will be 12-16 million.1 Each year there are over 340,000 new cases in the US. A-Fib is the most common heart arrhythmia.2 In the U.S. people over 40 have a one in four lifetime risk of developing A-Fib.3

Worldwide the number of cases is estimated to be 33.5 million or 0.5% of the world’s population.4 A-Fib has rightly been called an emerging epidemic.5 


Heart Problems

If you’ve had other heart problems, this could lead to diseased heart tissue which generates the extra A-Fib pulses. Hypertension (high blood pressure), Mitral Valve disease, Congestive Heart Failure, coronary artery disease, and obesity6 seem to be related to A-Fib, possibly because they stretch and put pressure on the pulmonary veins where most A-Fib originates. Coronary artery disease reduces blood flow and oxygen (stagnant hypoxia) which can trigger A-Fib.

A lot of A-Fib seems to come from uncontrolled high blood pressure. Many EPs recommend that all hypertension patients get a home BP monitor and aggressively work at controlling their blood pressure.

About 25% to 35% of stroke survivors experience atrial fibrillation;7 Up to 40% of patients8 get A-Fib after open heart surgery. “Pericarditis”—inflammation of the pericardium, a sack-like membrane surrounding the heart—can lead to A-Fib. 

Alcohol Consumption

Heavy drinking may trigger A-Fib, what hospitals call “holiday heart”—the majority of A-Fib admissions occur over weekends or holidays when more alcohol is consumed. No association was found between moderate alcohol use and A-Fib.9 (Heavy drinking reduces the ability of cells to take up and utilize oxygen [histotoxic hypoxia] which in some people may produce or trigger A-Fib. [Thanks to Warren Stuart for this insight.])

See the personal A-Fib story by Kris: “Binge Drinking Leads to Chronic A-Fib, Amiodarone Damages Eyesight” pp. 144-150 in my book, Beat Your A-Fib.

But if you already have A-Fib, even moderate use may trigger an A-Fib attack, “…people with atrial fibrillation had almost a four and a half greater chance of having an episode if they were consuming alcohol than if they were not.”10 (Thanks to David Holzman for calling our attention to this article.)

Otherwise healthy middle-aged women who consumed more than 2 drinks daily were 60% more likely to develop AF.11

Steve Walters writes “that red wine brings on A-Fib attacks for him, but not beer, white wine, or cordials. Has anyone else had similar experiences with red wine?” E-mail: bicwiley(at)gmail.com.

Neville writes that “taking a heavy dose of Magnesium/Potassium tablets and bananas for breakfast kept him out of A-Fib during a golfing weekend with significant drinking.” He uses the same strategy to get out of an A-Fib attack. mfa@optusnet.com.au 

Severe Body & Mind Stress

Severe infections, severe pain, traumatic injury, and illegal drug use can be a trigger. Low or high blood and tissue concentrations of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium can trigger A-Fib. Thyroid problems (hyperthyroidism), lung disease, reactive hypoglycemia, viral infections and diabetes.

To learn the impact of anxiety and emotional stress on A-Fib, see Jay Teresi’s personal story “Anxiety the Greatest Challenge

Extreme fatigue, anxiety and emotional stress can trigger A-Fib.

Smoking can trigger A-Fib. Smoking reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen (anemic hypoxia). Smoking cigarettes raises the risk of developing A-Fib even if one stops smoking, possibly because past smoking leaves behind permanent fibrotic damage to the atrium which makes later A-Fib more likely.12 

Being Overweight

As we put on pounds, our risk of developing A-Fib increases. In recent studies overweight adults were 39% more likely, and obese adults 87% more likely, to develop A-Fib than their normal-weight counterparts.13

Health problems linked to obesity, like high blood pressure and diabetes, can contribute to A-Fib. And obesity may put extra pressure on the pulmonary veins and induce A-Fib. Left atrial hypertension is a common finding in obese patients.


See the personal story and VIDEO by Susan Klein: My Family’s A-Fib was Misdiagnosed for Years.

Research has identified a Familial A-Fib where A-Fib is passed on genetically14  Do you have a parent or other immediate family member with A-Fib? Research says you have a 40% increased risk of developing A-Fib yourself. And the younger that family member was when they got A-Fib, the more likely you are to develop A-Fib.

According to Dr. Dan Roden of Vanderbilt University, genetic research may become important to A-Fib patients. He postulates that “Lone A-Fib” (A-Fib without a known cause) may actually be caused by genetics.

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We’ve had reports that A-Fib can be triggered by antihistamines, bronchial inhalants, local anesthetics, medications such as sumatriptan, a headache drug,15 tobacco use, MSG, cold beverages and eating ice cream, high altitude, and even sleeping on one’s left side or stomach. One person writes that hair regrowth products seem to trigger his A-Fib.

I used to include caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas, etc.) in this list, but some research suggests that coffee and caffeine in moderate to heavy doses (2-3 cups to 10 cups/day) may not trigger or induce A-Fib.16 Coffee (caffeine) may indeed be antiarrhythmic and may reduce propensity and inducibility of A-Fib both in normal hearts and in those with focal forms of A-Fib.17

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Possible Food-Related Triggers

Chocolate in large amounts may trigger attacks. Chocolate contains a little caffeine, but also contains the structurally related theobromine, a milder cardiac stimulant.

Another reader writes that the natural sweetener and sugar substitute Stevia seems to trigger her A-Fib.

GERD (heartburn) and other stomach problems (like H. pylori) may be related to or trigger A-Fib. If so, antacids and proton pump inhibitors like Nexium may help your A-Fib. A report from England suggests that the veterinary antibiotic “Lasalocid” found in eggs and poultry meat may cause or trigger A-Fib.18

Sleep Apnea

Recent research indicates sleep apnea (where your breathing stops while you are sleeping) may contribute to A-Fib, probably by causing stress on the Pulmonary Vein openings and/or by depriving the lungs and body of adequate oxygen supply (Hypoxemic Hypoxia).

Over 25 million Americans currently have sleep apnea, but 80% of these people don’t know they have it

In one study of patients with A-Fib, 43% had sleep apnea. (An additional 31% had “central sleep apnea/Cheyne-Stokes respiration” which is a different type of sleep apnea.)19  

If you have A-Fib, it’s wise to have yourself checked for sleep apnea. You can do a “quick” check of how much oxygen is in your blood with a Pulse Oximeter, such as the Contec Pulse Oximeter for about $20 from Amazon.com and in drug stores. A reading below 90% would indicate you need to have a sleep lab study.

You may want to check out the web site, MySleepApnea, http://www.myapnea.org, an online community for people with sleep apnea to s hare health info and personal experiences. (The Shaquille O’Neal video is terrific!)

Gail writes that “both her sleep apnea and her A-Fib were cured by a CPAP [Continuous Positive Airway Pressure] breathing machine.” (E-mail her: gail(at)bonairwine.com.)

Mechanically Induced A-Fib

Be careful if you work around equipment that vibrates. Certain frequencies and/or vibrations may possibly trigger or induce A-Fib. (If anyone has any info on how or why high frequencies and/or vibrations may possibly affect A-Fib, please let me know.)

Jerry writes that “high powered magnets, such as the N50, may trigger A-Fib due to the electromagnetic fields they generate.” (If you have any info on this, please email me.)

Physical and Gender Characteristics

Men get A-Fib more than women. But women may have more symptoms.

Athletes are more prone to A-Fib perhaps because they have larger hearts where there is more room for these extra electrical signals to develop and propagate, and possibly because of the extra pressure they put on their pulmonary veins through aerobic exercise. A-Fib is often found in tall people, particularly basketball players.20

Men get A-Fib more than women. But women fail more antiarrhythmic drugs therapies than men and may have more symptoms. For more see my article: The Facts About Women with A-Fib: Mother Nature and Gender Bias.


A-Fib is associated with aging of the heart. As patients get older, the prevalence of A-Fib increases, roughly doubling with each decade. 2-3% of people in their 60s, 5-6% of people in their 70s, and 8-10% of people in their 80s have A-Fib.21,22,23Approximately 70% of people with A-Fib are between 65 and 85 years of age.24 This suggests that A-Fib may be related to degenerative, age-related changes in the heart. Inflammation may contribute to the structural remodeling associated with A-Fib.25

No Known Cause

But in many A-Fib cases (around 50% of Paroxysmal A-Fib26), there is no currently discernible cause or trigger (called “Lone” or “Idiopathic A-Fib”).27 (Some research suggests that inflammation may initiate Lone A-Fib.)28

Read how others have dealt with their Atrial Fibrillation at A-Fib.com

Visit http://a-fib.com/personal-experiences/

Last updated: Sunday, April 10, 2016

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References    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Miyasaka, Yoko, et al, Secular Trends in Incidence of Atrial Fibrillation in Olmsted County, Minnesota, 1980 to 2000, and Implications on the Projections for Future Prevalence Circulation, 2006;114:119-125. Last accessed Feb 15, 2013. URL: http://www.circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/114/2/119
  2. Nelson, Bryn. “Places In The Heart,” NYU Physician. Spring, 2009, p. 8.
  3. Van Wagoner, David “Atrial selective strategies for treating atrial fibrillation.” Drug Discovery Today: Therapeutic Strategies Vol 2, No. 3, 2005. “We have detected increased levels of the systemic inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) in patients with A-Fib.”
  4. S. S. Chugh, et al. Worldwide Epidemiology of Atrial Fibrillation: A Global Burden of Disease 2010 Study. Circulation, 2013; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.005119
  5. Camm, “Stroke in atrial fibrillation: Update on pathology, new antithrombotic therapies, and evolution of procedures and devices.” Annals of Medicine, 39:5, 371-391, 2007
  6. The Link Between Infections and Inflammation in Heart Disease. Life Extension Vitamins. Last accessed November 5, 2012 http://www.lifeextensionvitamins.com/cadico6otco.html
  7. Bottom Line Personal, October 15, 2014, p. 11. Kallmunzer, Bernd et al. Peripheral pulse measurement after ischemic stroke. Nuerology, Published Online May 6, 2014 http://www.neurology.org/content/83/7/598.abstract?sid=f532228b-5314-46d3-bdca-a7db9bc7fa7d
  8. Frost L., et al. “Atrial fibrillation and flutter after coronary artery bypass surgery: epidemiology, risk factors and preventive trials. International Journal of Cardiology. 1992;36:253-262.
  9. Calkins, H. and Berger, R. “Atrial Fibrillation The Latest Management Strategies.” The Johns Hopkins Medicine Library, p. 10.
  10. Alcohol May Trigger Serious Palpitations in Heart Patients. American Journal of Cardiology (August 1, 2012) http://www.newswise.com/articles/alcohol-may-trigger-serious-palpitations-in-heart-patients
  11. Conen D, Tedrow UB, Cook NR, Moorthy MV, Buring JE, Albert CM (December 2008). “Alcohol consumption and risk of incident atrial fibrillation in women”. JAMA 300 (21): 2489 96.
    doi:10.1001/jama.2008.755. PMID 19050192. PMC 2630715. http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/300/21/2489.
  12. Heeringa J, et al. Cigarette smoking and risk of atrial fibrillation: the Rotterdam Study. Am Heart J. 2008 Dec;156(6):1163-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2008.08.003. Last accessed Jan 6, 2013 URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19033014
  13. Vivek Y. Reddy, M.D., Joins The Mount Sinai Medical Center as Director of Electrophysiology Laboratories.  May 6, 2009 . http://www.prweb.com/printer/2396634.htm
  14. Brugada R. “Identification of a genetic locus for familial atrial fibrillation,” New England Journal of Medicine 1997;336:p. 905-911. Ellinor et al., 2005, 2008. Sinner et al., 2011.
  15. The Link Between Infections and Inflammation in Heart Disease. Life Extension Vitamins. Last accessed November 5, 2012 http://www.lifeextensionvitamins.com/cadico6otco.html
  16. Katan, M, Schouten, E. Caffeine and arrhythmia1,2,3. Am J Clin Nutr March 2005 vol. 81 no. 3 539-540. Last accessed November 5, 2012 http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/81/3/539
  17. Rashid, Abdul et al. “The effects of caffeine on the inducibility of Atrial fibrillation.” J Electrocardiol. 2006 October, 39(4): 421-425. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257921/
  18. Barclay, L. Caffeine Not Associated With Increased Risk of Atrial Fibrillation. Mar 10, 2005. Medscape News Today. Last accessed November 5, 2012. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/501279?src=search
  19. Bitter, T. et al. Sleep-disordered Breathing in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation and Normal Systolic Left Ventricular Function. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2009; 106(10): 164-70  http://www.aerzteblatt.de/pdf/di/106/10/m164.pdf. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2009.0164
  20. “The tallest patients in a recent study were 32% more likely to have A-Fib than the shortest ones. Doctors estimate that for every six-inch increase in height, the risk for A-Fib increases by 50%.” Bottom Line Health, July, 2006, p. 14.
  21. Go, “Anticoagulation and Risk Factors in Atrial Fibrillation (ATRIA) study. Prevalence of diagnosed atrial fibrillation in adults: national implications for rhythm management and stroke prevention.” JAMA, 2001:285:2370-2375.
  22. Philip A. et al. Atrial Fibrillation: A Major Contributor to Stroke in the Elderly, : The Framingham Study. Arch Intern Med 1987;147:1561-1564.
  23. Feinberg, “Prevalence, age distribution, and gender of patients with atrial fibrillation: analysis and implications.” Arch Intern Med 1995;155:469-473.
  24. Laish-Farkash, A. et al. Atrial Fibrillation in the Elderly—To Ablate or Not to Ablate, J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2013;24(7):739-741. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/807303.
  25. Van Wagoner, David “Atrial selective strategies for treating atrial fibrillation.” Drug Discovery Today: Therapeutic Strategies Vol 2, No. 3, 2005. “We have detected increased levels of the systemic inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) in patients with A-Fib.
  26. Allessie, Maurits A. et al. “Pathophysiology and Prevention of Atrial Fibrillation.” Circulation. 2001;103:769.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.

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