ABOUT 'BEAT YOUR A-FIB'...


"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"



ABOUT A-FIB.COM...


"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


Stress

A-Fib Patients: Is Stress Really Bad For You?

Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author of The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, has challenged the conventional view that stress is bad for you. I found a few insights from her book encouraging for A-Fib patients.

Researchers who followed 30,000 US Americans for eight years found that the risk for death from any cause rose by 43% among participants who had high levels of stress. But that number applied only to people who believed that the stress they were experiencing was bad for their health.

From the Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

From the Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

Study participants who reported similar levels of stress but who did not consider it to be bad for their health, had survival rates that were actually better than those of people with relatively stress-free lives.

Dr. McGonigal recommends telling yourself “I’m excited” rather than stressed. Try to look at stress as simply your body’s response when something you care about is at stake. The pounding heart or faster breathing is your body’s way of heightening your senses so that you are mentally focused and motivated to do well.

Look at stress as a challenge rather than a looming threat.

So What Does this Mean for A-Fib Patients? Stress, by itself, is not usually a trigger for an A-Fib attack. (You could be totally stress-free, lounging on a swing on a tropical isle and still have an A-Fib attack.)

But stress can play a role in the intensity and duration of your A-Fib attacks.

Beyond the physical, A-Fib has psychological and emotional effects as well. Recent research indicates that “psychological distress” worsens the severity of A-Fib symptoms.

Kelly G book cover - Upside of Stress 75 pix wide at 300 res

Buy this book

Give Dr. McGonigal’s Advice a Try. So, when feeling stressed, try mentally ‘reframing’ the stress as a ‘challenge’ rather than as a looming threat. Tell yourself “I’m excited” rather than stressed. It may help lessen your A-Fib symptoms. (Let me know if this works for you! Email me.)

Sounds like this approach could help in many areas of our lives.

For other ways to cope with your stress, see our A-Fib.com article, Coping With the Fear and Anxiety of Atrial Fibrillation.

For more about stress from Kelly McGonigal, read her The Washington Post interview, or her book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.

Israeli Study Contradicts Recent CHA2DS2-Vasc Guidelines: Being Female Not a Risk Factor for Stroke

CHAD2DS2VAC Medium 100 pix at 96 resby Steve S. Ryan, May 2015

This is another powerful study contradicting the recent CHA2DS2-VASc guidelines which gives every women with A-Fib one point on the stroke risk scale because of her female gender, no matter how healthy she is otherwise.

An Israeli study tracked nearly 100,000 patients who developed A-Fib. They were followed for approximately four years between  2004 and 2011. The purpose of this observational study was to re-evaluate the risk of ischemic stroke, major bleeding and death in men and women with A-Fib.

Controversial CHA2DS2-VASc Risk Data and Analyses?

Previous controversial data and analyses showed an increased risk of stroke among women. The recent CHA2DS2-VASc risk score states that being a female is a risk factor for stroke.

“In light of our findings, we suggest to use a similar anticoagulant strategy in [both] men and women with atrial fibrillation over the age of 65.”

But in this Israeli study, “the risk of ischemic stroke was similar in men and women.” Women who developed A-Fib were older than men by four years (74 vs, 70) and had more hypertension, but lower prevalence of diabetes, congestive heart failure and ischemic heart disease. The rates of ischemic stroke were identical between male and female patients, 5.3% for both genders.

Factors associated with increased stroke risk were previous stroke, age older than 65, hypertension, congestive heart failure and diabetes. Adjusting for the age difference between the men and women who developed A-Fib in this study, death risk was associated with male gender, age over 65, previous stroke or heart attack, and diabetes.

Study Conclusion

The authors concluded, “In light of our findings, we suggest to use a similar anticoagulant strategy in men and women with atrial fibrillation over the age of 65.”

Editor’s Comments:

Intuitively it doesn’t make sense that simply being a woman makes you more at risk of having an A-Fib stroke. This study seems to confirm what common sense would indicate.
Women in their child-bearing years are much less at risk of stroke because of the blood-thinning effect of losing blood each month. And even after menopause women have less risk of stroke. But eventually they do have more strokes. But not because of an innate inferiority, but because women live longer than men. Stroke and hypertension are age related. In this israeli study women who developed A-Fib were four years older than men.
Be advised that the original European guidelines were written by doctors with major conflicts of interest. These guidelines may be a not so very subtle form of gender bias. Also, just adding one point to a person’s stroke risk score translates into a huge increase in sales for pharmaceutical companies.
References for this article

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Return to Index of Articles: Research and Innovations

Last updated: Monday, March 28, 2016

FAQs from Newly Diagnosed Patient

You are not alone. A-Fib.comFrequently Asked Questions by Newly Diagnosed Patients

Newly diagnosed Atrial Fibrillation patients have many questions about living with A-Fib. These are answers to the most frequently asked questions by patients and their families. (Click on the question to jump to the answer)

1.  My doctor says I had an attack of A-Fib. How much trouble am I in?

2.  Did I cause my Atrial Fibrillation? Am I responsible for getting A-Fib?

3.  “Could my A-Fib go away on its own? I don’t want to take any medication. Can I just wait and see?”

4.  “Is Atrial Fibrillation a prelude to a heart attack?

5.  “Can I die from my Atrial Fibrillation? Is it life threatening?”

6.  “Is Atrial Fibrillation curable? Or can you only treat or control it? Should I seek a cure?

7.  “Is there a diet I could follow which would cure my A-Fib?

8.  “Should I cool my sex life? Can I exercise if I have Atrial Fibrillation? Should I exercise?

9.  “I have a lot of stress at work. Does this stress cause or trigger my A-Fib?”

10. “Can I drive my car if I have Atrial Fibrillation?

11. “Is drinking coffee (tea, colas, other products with caffeine) going to make my A-Fib worse or trigger an A-Fib attack?

12. “Is there anything I can do to get out of an A-Fib episode? How do others deal with their episodes?

13. “Should I carry a wallet card or a medical ID? I have A-Fib and take Coumadin. In case of an A-Fib emergency, what information should I include?

14. “I live in fear of my A-Fib. I never know when I’m going to get an A-Fib attack or how long it will last. How do I deal with the anxiety? 

15. “Should I see a cardiologist for my A-Fib and not just my primary care doctor? He wants to prescribe medication. Should I also see a specialist?”

Last updated: Monday, July 13, 2015

Return to Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs Coping with A-Fib: Being Supportive

 FAQs Coping with A-Fib: Spouse Support

FAQs A-Fib afib10. “What can I do for my husband when he has an Atrial Fibrillation episode? How can I be supportive?”

First, determine if this episode is typical. If you both know from experience that this A-Fib attack will pass, you can help by getting him to sit or lay down and relax as much as possible. Maybe he needs to be reassured—remind him that this isn’t life threatening. That may help to keep you both calm and to get you through it. (I know how hard it is to “relax” when your heart feels like it’s going to jump out of your chest and is totally out of control.)

You might suggest he try one or more of these tips shared by other A-Fib patients:

•  Putting cold compresses or ice on the back of one’s neck.

•  Laying down and trying to relax in a darkened room.

•  Moderate exercise. For some, moderate exercise may help terminate an A-Fib attack. But for others, exercise may trigger or increase an A-Fib attack.

•  Deep breathing and holding one’s breathe while pressing down hard on the diaphragm.

•  A-Fib is sometimes triggered by body position—lying or leaning on the left side. Lying on one’s back and relaxing the chest may help terminate A-Fib episodes triggered by lying on the left side.

•  Putting one’s head between one’s legs and deep breathing.

If this episode is unusual and your spouse is in great discomfort with their heart beating very rapidly and irregularly, consider calling emergency services (dial 911 in the US.) or drive him to hospital emergency room. The emergency room staff can use a defibrillator and medications to electrically shock him back into normal sinus rhythm. Or convert him/her back to sinus rhythm using drugs.

Read more at: Why & How to Create Your ‘A-Fib Episode Action Plan’

Back to FAQs: Coping with Your A-Fib

FAQs Coping with A-Fib: Develop a Plan

FAQs Coping with A-Fib: An Action Plan

FAQs A-Fib afib7. “My husband’s A-Fib is getting worse. When should I call paramedics (911 in the US) and/or take him to the hospital? I’m petrified with fear for him. Our doctors say don’t worry unless he shows signs of a heart attack or stroke.”

Keep in mind, as bad as it feels, an A-Fib attack usually isn’t life threatening. (A-Fib doesn’t cause or lead to a heart attack.)

Develop an Action Plan: for your own peace of mind, you and your husband need to work out an ‘A-Fib action plan’ with his doctors.

You and your husband should know:

•  when to contact his doctor
•  your doctor’s cell number or email address for emergencies
•  when to go to the emergency room
•  whether or not to call your doctor from the ER
•  if your doctor will call and talk with the ER staff
•  when your husband should “just ride out” the episode
•  the signs of stroke, and what you should be watching for

You need specific steps and a specific plan of action. Having a plan is reassuring and helps you stay calm. When having an A-Fib attack, you and your husband will be confident you’re taking the right action.

If you feel your doctor isn’t working with you (to develop a specific action plan) and/or if your spouse is getting worse, it may be time to interview and change doctors.

Read more at: Why & How to Create Your ‘A-Fib Episode Action Plan’

Having a plan is reassuring and helps you stay calm… and be confident you’re taking the right action.

Back to FAQs: Coping with Your A-Fib

FAQs Newly Diagnosed with A-Fib: Stress

 FAQs Newly Diagnosed with A-Fib: Stress

Maze heart You are not alone - with outline 175 pix at 96 res9. “I have a lot of stress at work. Does this stress cause or trigger my A-Fib?”

There’s always going to be some stress in life. Nobody lives a stress-free life. Life events like the sudden death of a family member or friend can’t help but affect us in every part of our body and mind. But it’s not the danger of stress but how we respond to it that matters. If you can, take the stress in stride as part of the human condition.

Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, has challenged the conventional view that stress is bad for you. From her book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It:

From Kelly McGonigal website quote 200 pix sq at 300 resResearchers who followed 30,000 US Americans for eight years found that the risk for death from any cause rose by 43% among participants who had high levels of stress. But that number applied only to people who believed that the stress they were experiencing was bad for their health. Study participants who reported similar levels of stress but did not consider it to be bad for their health, had survival rates that were actually better than those of people with relatively stress-free lives.

Dr. McGonigal recommends telling yourself “I’m excited” rather than stressed. Try to look at stress as simply your body’s response when something you care about is at stake. The pounding heart or faster breathing is your body’s way of heightening your senses so that you are mentally focused and motivated to do well.

Look at stress as a challenge rather than a looming threat.

Stress, by itself, is not usually a trigger for an A-Fib attack. (You could be totally stress-free, lounging on a swing on a tropical isle and still have an A-Fib attack.)

But stress can play a role in the intensity and duration of your A-Fib attacks.

Beyond the physical, A-Fib has psychological and emotional effects as well. Recent research indicates that “psychological distress” worsens the severity of A-Fib symptoms.

If you do get mired in a constant state of mental, emotional and physical tension due to stress, this can obviously affect your health and increase A-Fib. Should this happens to you, try to get medical, emotional and psychological help. We all need that kind of support from time to time.

For ways to cope with your stress, see our article, Coping With the Fear and Anxiety of Atrial Fibrillation.

For more about stress from Kelly McGonigal, read her The Washington Post interview, or her book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.

References for this article

Last updated: Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Go back to FAQ for the Newly Diagnosed A-Fib Patient

FAQs Newly Diagnosed with A-Fib: Fear and Anxiety

 FAQs Coping with A-Fib: Fear & Anxiety

Maze heart You are not alone - with outline 175 pix at 96 res14. “I live in fear of my A-Fib. I never know when I’m going to get an A-Fib attack or how long it will last.  How do people deal with this constantly lurking fear and anxiety?”

Don’t be ashamed to admit how A-Fib makes you feel (especially if you’re a guy). A-Fib has psychological and emotional effects as well as physical. Recent research indicates that “psychological distress” worsens A-Fib symptoms’ severity.

Seven WAYS TO COPE WITH YOUR A-FIB FEAR AND ANXIETY

1. Knowledge is Power and Control!

Read about your treatment options, learn about your A-Fib. Read how others have dealt with their A-Fib. Search the list of Personal Experiences published on his site. With over 60 stories, you’re sure to find a few patients with similar symptoms as yourself. Knowing others have beaten their A-Fib is a tremendous psychological relief. This helps replace fear with hope!

2. Anxiety Thought Log

Confront your A-Fib fears directly. Don’t let them mill around in your subconscious. Former A-Fib patient, Anthony Bladon, suggests you keep an ‘anxiety thoughts log.’ Write down word-for-word what the anxious thought was, when, and what was the trigger. Confront each fearful thought and try to re-state it in a more reasonable frame of mind, thereby reducing the anxiety. (See Anthony Bladon and his anxiety log.)

This may sound a bit bizarre, but try repeating anxious thoughts to yourself. Express a fear to yourself over and over. Let the monotony make your mind wander to more enjoyable thoughts. Or set aside a 20 minute worrying time during the day and refuse to think about troubling fears at any other time.

3. Yoga, Relaxation Techniques and Meditation 

In preliminary studies, Yoga has been demonstrated to improve A-Fib symptoms and to reduce A-Fib attacks, as well as improve quality of life, depression and anxiety.2 (See also FAQ #8 I do Yoga. It relaxes me and helps with my stress level. Is there any evidence on Yoga helping with other A-Fib symptoms?“)

Relaxation techniques and meditation may also offer you relief from your anxieties.

A specific type of meditation called ‘Mindfulness’ is recommended by Harvard Pilgrim nurse case manager Linda Bixby. The technique is to ‘Observe and Feel the Physical Sensations’ of the A-Fib Episodes. At first this may seem counter-intuitive and may not work for you. The idea is to observe rather than resist or worry. You allow a frightening health event like an A-Fib attack to just run its course. For example, Neil Blanchette was diagnosed with A-Fib when he was 17. Meditation and “mindfulness” was a great help to him. “Just taking it in and letting myself feel the physical A-Fib experience was actually relaxing.”3(Thanks to David Holzman for calling our attention to this article.)

4. Natural Remedies:

Lavender Oil Aromatherapy: the light, soothing fragrance of lavender oil has long been used to ease anxiety (and insomnia). One example of many is Nature’s Way Calm Aid. “It contains Silexan, a type of lavender oil shown in clinical studies to ease anxiety as effectively as the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam (Ativan).”4

PharmaGABA: is a bioidentical form of GABA (gamma-ami­nobutyric acid), which serves as a critical calming agent in the central nervous system, works on the same chemical pathways as Xanax, Valium, and other drugs—without all the negative side effects; helps combat stress and anxiousness.5 One example is Natural Factors PharmaGABA

Relora: a blend of two botanical extracts (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) that helps reduce cortisol levels and promotes feelings of relaxation.6

5. Counseling and Meds

Recognize that you may need professional help. Don’t be embarrassed to seek counseling. In addition, discuss if anxiety medication would be appropriate or helpful. (See Jay Teresi’s story, “Anxiety the Greatest Challenge” and Kelly Teresi’s story “A Young Wife Copes with Husband’s A-Fib” in my book, Beat Your A-Fib, pgs. 101-105)

6. Our A-Fib Support Volunteers

It might calm your fears to talk with or email someone who knows first-hand how A-Fib makes you feel. Each of our A-Fib Support Volunteers has gone through a lot to be cured of their A-Fib. They were helped along the way and now they want to return the favor by offering you support and hope. Learn more on our A-Fib Support Volunteers page (under Resources and Links).

7. Enlist Support From Your Loved Ones

Recognize that A-Fib can have significant consequences on your social interactions with your family and colleagues. Sit down and have a talk with your significant other, your friends and co-workers. Explain what A-Fib is, how it affects you and how it makes you feel. Ask for their understanding. They will want to help you, so be prepared to answer their questions.

Takeaway: Fight your fears! Ambush your anxiety! Atrial Fibrillation may be in your heart but it doesn’t have to be in your head. Seek your freedom from anxiety and improve the quality of your life.

Other ideas? If you have suggestions or programs that helped reduce your A-Fib-related anxiety, please email me and let me know.

Back to top

Return to Dealing with A-Fib

Last updated: Friday, August 21, 2015

References    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Gehi AK at al. Psychopathology and symptoms of atrial fibrillation: implications for therapy. J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2012 May;23(5):473-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8167.2011.02264.x. Epub 2012 Mar 19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22429764
  2. Neale, T. Yoga May Calm Afib. MedscapeToday.com. Jan 23, 2013. Last accessed Jan 23, 2014. URL:http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Arrhythmias/37121
  3. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Your Health, Fall 2014.
  4. Lucile, H. (DrHollyLucille.com) Natural remedy for anxiety, Bottom Line Health, April, 2014, p. 16.
  5. Whitaker, J. PharmaGABA Chewables for Immediate Stress Relief. Whitaker Wellness Institute website. Last accessed March 29, 2014. URL: http://www.whitakerwellness.com/pharmagaba/
  6. Whitaker, J. Innovations in Wellness Medicine, Natural Solutions for Stress Relief. Dr. Whitaker’s Health & Healing, March 2015, Vol. 25, No. 3.
A few of our many A-Fib.com Support Volunteers

Our A-Fib.com Support Volunteers are just an email away.

Last updated: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Go back to FAQ for the Newly Diagnosed A-Fib Patient

Seven Ways to Reduce A-Fib Fear and Anxiety

7 Ways to Cope with the Fear and Anxiety of Atrial FibrillationCoping With the Fear and Anxiety of Atrial Fibrillation

by Steve S. Ryan, PhD

For a substantial portion of A-Fib patients, the impact on ‘quality of life’ extends beyond our beating heart. Atrial Fibrillation wreaks havoc with your head as well as your heart. Anxiety, fear, worry, confusion, frustration and depression. And at times, anger.

The psychological and emotional effects of Atrial Fibrillation can be debilitating. Recent research indicates that “psychological distress” worsens A-Fib symptoms’ severity.1

(Don’t expect much help from your heart doctors. They aren’t trained or often have little effective experience in dealing with the psychological and emotional aspects of A-Fib.)

Don’t be ashamed to admit how A-Fib makes you feel (especially if you’re a guy). Your psyche is just as important as your physical heart. Just acknowledging you have some or all of these symptoms is a step in the right direction.

Seven WAYS TO COPE WITH YOUR A-FIB FEAR AND ANXIETY

1. Knowledge is Power and Control!

Read about your treatment options, learn about your A-Fib. Read how others have dealt with their A-Fib. Search the list of Personal Experiences published on his site. With over 80 stories, you’re sure to find a few patients with similar symptoms as yourself. Knowing others have beaten their A-Fib is a tremendous psychological relief. This helps replace fear with hope!

2. Anxiety Thought Log

Confront your A-Fib fears directly. Don’t let them mill around in your subconscious. Former A-Fib patient, Anthony Bladon, suggests you keep an ‘anxiety thoughts log.’ Write down word-for-word what the anxious thought was, when, and what was the trigger. Confront each fearful thought and try to re-state it in a more reasonable frame of mind, thereby reducing the anxiety. (See Anthony Bladon and his anxiety log.)

This may sound a bit bizarre, but try repeating anxious thoughts to yourself. Express a fear to yourself over and over. Let the monotony make your mind wander to more enjoyable thoughts. Or set aside a 20 minute worrying time during the day and refuse to think about troubling fears at any other time.

3. Yoga, Relaxation Techniques, Meditation and Walking 

In preliminary studies, Yoga has been demonstrated to improve A-Fib symptoms and to reduce A-Fib attacks, as well as improve quality of life, depression and anxiety.2 (See also FAQ #8 I do Yoga. It relaxes me and helps with my stress level. Is there any evidence on Yoga helping with other A-Fib symptoms?)

Relaxation techniques and meditation may also offer you relief from your anxieties.

A specific type of meditation called ‘Mindfulness’ is recommended by Harvard Pilgrim nurse case manager Linda Bixby. The technique is to ‘Observe and Feel the Physical Sensations’ of the A-Fib Episodes. At first this may seem counter-intuitive and may not work for you. The idea is to observe rather than resist or worry. You allow a frightening health event like an A-Fib attack to just run its course. For example, Neil Blanchette was diagnosed with A-Fib when he was 17. Meditation and “mindfulness” was a great help to him. “Just taking it in and letting myself feel the physical A-Fib experience was actually relaxing.”3(Thanks to David Holzman for calling our attention to this article.)

Walking curbs anxiety. Try to walk outdoors at approximately the same time each day. Breathing fresh air and having an established routine enhance the calming and relaxing effects of walking. But even if you can’t walk at the same time or outdoors, 20 minutes of walking daily reduces anxiety.

4. Natural Remedies:

Lavender Oil Aromatherapy: the light, soothing fragrance of lavender oil has long been used to ease anxiety (and insomnia). One example of many is Nature’s Way Calm Aid. “It contains Silexan, a type of lavender oil shown in clinical studies to ease anxiety as effectively as the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam (Ativan).”4

PharmaGABA: is a bioidentical form of GABA (gamma-ami­nobutyric acid), which serves as a critical calming agent in the central nervous system, works on the same chemical pathways as Xanax, Valium, and other drugs—without all the negative side effects; helps combat stress and anxiousness.5 One example is Natural Factors PharmaGABA

Relora: a blend of two botanical extracts (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) that helps reduce cortisol levels and promotes feelings of relaxation.6

Chamomile: “calms the nerves, reduces irritability and lessens the muscle spasms, headache and abdominal pain that can accompany anxiousness.” Substitute chamomile tea for caffeinated beverages, or take 60 drops of chamomile tincture in two ounces of water four times a day before or after meals, or add two drops of concentrated chamomile essential oil to a hot bath at night.7

Gotu Kola: restores health to brain and nerve cells by promoting blood circulation to the brain which has a calming effect.8

 

5. Counseling and Meds

Recognize that you may need professional help. Don’t be embarrassed to seek counseling. In addition, discuss if anxiety medication would be appropriate or helpful. (See Jay Teresi’s story, “Anxiety the Greatest Challenge” and Kelly Teresi’s story “A Young Wife Copes with Husband’s A-Fib” in my book, Beat Your A-Fib, pgs. 101-105)

6. Our A-Fib Support Volunteers

It might calm your fears to talk with or email someone who knows first-hand how A-Fib makes you feel. Each of our A-Fib Support Volunteers has gone through a lot to be cured of their A-Fib. They were helped along the way and now they want to return the favor by offering you support and hope. Learn more on our A-Fib Support Volunteers page (under Resources and Links).

7. Enlist Support From Your Loved Ones

Recognize that A-Fib can have significant consequences on your social interactions with your family and colleagues. Sit down and have a talk with your significant other, your friends and co-workers. Explain what A-Fib is, how it affects you and how it makes you feel. Ask for their understanding. They will want to help you, so be prepared to answer their questions.

Takeaway: Fight your fears! Ambush your anxiety! Atrial Fibrillation may be in your heart but it doesn’t have to be in your head. Seek your freedom from anxiety and improve the quality of your life.

Other ideas? If you have suggestions or programs that helped reduce your A-Fib-related anxiety, please email me and let me know.

Back to top

Return to Dealing with A-Fib

Last updated: Sunday, February 7, 2016

References    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Gehi AK at al. Psychopathology and symptoms of atrial fibrillation: implications for therapy. J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2012 May;23(5):473-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8167.2011.02264.x. Epub 2012 Mar 19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22429764
  2. Neale, T. Yoga May Calm Afib. MedscapeToday.com. Jan 23, 2013. Last accessed Jan 23, 2014. URL:http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Arrhythmias/37121
  3. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Your Health, Fall 2014.
  4. Lucile, H. (DrHollyLucille.com) Natural remedy for anxiety, Bottom Line Health, April, 2014, p. 16.
  5. Whitaker, J. PharmaGABA Chewables for Immediate Stress Relief. Whitaker Wellness Institute website. Last accessed March 29, 2014. URL: http://www.whitakerwellness.com/pharmagaba/
  6. Whitaker, J. Innovations in Wellness Medicine, Natural Solutions for Stress Relief. Dr. Whitaker’s Health & Healing, March 2015, Vol. 25, No. 3.
  7. Starbuck, Jamison. The Natural Way/No More Drugs for Anxiety. Bottom Line Health, Volume 29, Number 10, October 2015, p. 10.
  8. Ibid.

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 

HOW DO YOU GET A-FIB?

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.

Genetics

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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A-FIB TRIGGERS

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

From the publisher of A-Fib.com: 'Beat Your A-Fib: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Cure' by Steve S. Ryan, PhD; Click to order your copy Today!

From the publisher of A-Fib.com

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.

Aging

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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