The most common triggers of atrial fibrillation - an irregular heart rhythm that’s a leading cause of stroke - are avoidable behaviors like drinking alcohol or coffee, a recent study from the from University of California, San Francisco suggests.
People don’t always realize when they’re experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib) but some feel unpleasant chest palpitations or a racing, irregular heartbeat. Some people have AFib 24 hours a day. In others, the irregular heartbeat comes and goes (paroxysmal AFib).
For the current study, researchers surveyed 1,295 patients with symptomatic paroxysmal AFib and found the most common behaviors that triggered episodes of arrhythmia were alcohol consumption, caffeine consumption and exercise.
The survey asked about 11 possible triggers: alcohol, caffeine, lack of sleep, exercise, not exercising, consuming cold beverages, consuming cold foods, high sodium diet, consuming large meals, dehydration, and lying on one’s left side.
About 75% of the patients said at least one of those behaviors triggered AFib some or all of the time.
Alcohol consumption was cited by 35 percent, followed by coffee drinking (28 percent), exercise (23 percent) and lack of sleep (21 percent).
The researchers say it’s possible the behaviors don’t actually trigger the episodes but instead make the symptoms worse.
The study wasn’t designed to tell whether cutting back on these triggers would reduce the frequency of AFib episodes.
Still, coauthor Dr. Gregory Marcus from University of California, San Francisco told Reuters Health,
Associations between alcohol and AFib are well known, but the link with coffee is controversial. And
while exercise is a healthy habit, strenuous exercise after long periods of not exercising has been known to trigger heart arrhythmias.
In AFib, the heart’s two small upper chambers beat irregularly and too fast, “quivering like a bowl of gelatin,” according to the American Heart Association. As a result, the heart can’t pump properly and the body doesn’t get enough oxygen-carrying blood.
AFib can lead to serious medical problems including stroke and heart failure. Treatments include medication to regulate the heart rate or heart rhythm, blood thinners to help prevent clots from forming, and in some cases, electric shocks to reset the beat of the heart.
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