Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is an irregular, rapid heartbeat. Stress, caffeine, alcohol, fatigue, and other factors can trigger symptoms in a person who is prone to A-fib.
During an A-fib episode, the heart may not pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, leading to symptoms including weakness, light-headedness, and dizziness.
Here, find out about some common triggers, risk factors, and tips for managing A-fib.
Here are some factors that may cause A-fib to appear or recur.
When traveling, people with A-fib should be sure to:
- get enough sleep
- stay hydrated
- eat regular meals
- keep medications in their hand baggage when flying
- check with a doctor before flying if they have a severe condition
- take measures to manage stress, for example, by planning trips carefully beforehand
2. Medical procedures
Up to 6 in 10 people have A-fib after cardiac surgery. This can have both long- and short-term effects on cardiovascular health.
A-fib also affects
Anyone with A-fib should let their doctor know before undergoing any medical procedure, even a minor one.
3. Prescription medications
There is some evidence that certain prescription drugs may trigger a first episode of A-fib, according to a
- cardiovascular drugs, such as adenosine, dobutamine, and milrinone
- antitumor agents, such as paclitaxel, mitoxantrone, and anthracyclines
A doctor should advise a person on possible adverse effects before prescribing these and other drugs for the first time.
Low- or moderate-intensity exercise is generally beneficial for heart health. However, long-term, high-intensity endurance training may increase the risk of A-fib, especially in males, according to some
People with A-fib who wish to start exercising or increase their activity levels should speak with a doctor to ensure they have a safe approach.
High alcohol consumption and drinking a lot in a short time — known as binge drinking — can increase the risk of A-fib. However, people can also experience A-fib with a more moderate but regular alcohol intake, according to
Possible reasons for this include:
- alcohol’s toxic effect on the body
- alcohol’s contribution to obesity and high blood pressure
- a higher risk of sleep-disordered breathing, or sleep apnea
7. Sleep problems
In 2017, the authors of a
A-fib is common among people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA),
8. Air pollution
A 2021 review found evidence that short-term exposure to certain pollutants — notably nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide — can increase the risk of an A-fib episode.
Meanwhile, people living in areas with long-term exposure to air pollution are more likely to have A-fib than people in less-polluted areas.
9. Dehydration and overhydration
Consuming too much or too little water may increase the risk of A-fib.
Dehydration and overhydration can both lead to an imbalance or lack of electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. This may trigger A-fib symptoms. Dehydration may also make it easier for blood to coagulate, increasing the risk of blood clots.
Dehydration can occur during exercise, hot weather, and illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea. Overhydration can affect people who drink too much water, for instance, while exercising.
The best option is probably for people with A-fib to avoid caffeine or drink it in moderation until there is more proof that it has no ill effects on their condition.
11. Energy drinks
Energy drinks can contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulants, such as guarana and eviodamine. These substances can affect heart rhythms and may be unsuitable for people with A-fib.
12. Over-the-counter drugs
Over-the-counter (OTC) cold, flu, and cough medications can trigger A-fib attacks if they contain phenyephrine or pseudoephedrine. These ingredients can stimulate the heart.
13. Recreational drugs
Recreational and street drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, opioids, and cannabis, can affect heart rate and
Some people have a higher risk of developing A-fib.
Risk factors for A-fib
- Hypertension, or high blood pressure
- A history of heart disease, heart attack, or heart surgery
- A personal or family history of hormonal problems, such as thyroid disease
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Hypoventilation syndrome, which involves shallow or inadequate breathing
- Using certain medications and recreational drugs
- A history of rheumatic fever
- A history of pericarditis
- Being aged
over 65 years
- Chronic stress
Here are some tips that may help a person avoid A-fib episodes:
- Do regular exercise.
- Establish regular sleep patterns.
- Manage stress.
- Avoid alcohol or drink only in moderation.
- Quit smoking, which may reduce the risk of complications by
- Follow a heart-healthy diet.
- Maintain a moderate weight.
- Stay hydrated.
- Follow any treatment plan for A-fib.
- Check that medications, supplements, and other substances are safe to use.
Here are some questions people often ask about managing A-fib.
What should you avoid if you have A-fib?
People with A-fib should avoid:
- excessive caffeine intake
- certain recreational, prescription, and OTC drugs
They should also follow their doctor’s instructions and seek medical advice before increasing exercise levels or making significant changes to their diet or supplement intake.
Can A-fib start suddenly and for no apparent reason?
A-fib often occurs in response to a trigger, such as surgery or caffeine consumption. However, some people may experience paroxysmal A-fib, which lasts less than
A-fib indicates there is a problem with the cardiovascular system. A range of heart problems can lead to A-fib, and various triggers may provoke an initial episode or a recurrence. These range from an overconsumption of energy drinks to cardiac or noncardiac surgery.
Individuals with a diagnosis of A-fib may benefit from keeping a diary of when symptoms occur in order to identify and, where possible, avoid their triggers.