Methods to help stop an atrial fibrillation episode include taking slow, deep breaths or coughing. Treating the underlying cause, managing stress, and exercising can also help prevent episodes.

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a type of irregular heartbeat. A person may feel a fluttering in their chest and a racing heart during an A-fib episode.

A-fib can lead to complications, such as stroke and heart failure. Anyone who thinks that they might have A-fib should contact a doctor right away.

Continue reading to learn more about ways to help prevent an A-fib episode and when to speak with doctor.

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A person who has symptoms of an A-fib episode should consult a doctor, even if the symptoms resolve on their own.

A doctor may prescribe medications to keep a person’s persistent A-fib under control.

However, stress and unhealthy lifestyle habits can trigger an A-fib episode, even in people who are taking their medication.

Here are additional ways to help prevent an A-fib episode.

Stress management

Intense emotions, such as stress and anger, can cause problems with the heart’s rhythm.

The regular practice of stress management techniques, such as focused deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and yoga could reduce the risk of an A-fib episode.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Arrhythmia reported that people with A-fib who did twice-weekly yoga sessions over a 3-month period experienced significant reductions in high blood pressure and heart rate.

Read more on managing stress here.

Limit recreational substance use

Substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and even alcohol can trigger A-fib or make it worse. Energy drinks and excess caffeine can also trigger A-fib.

Exercise as tolerated

Exercise helps with cardiac health and stress management. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests people should aim for at least 150 minutes or 2.5 hours of activity per week.

When exercising, people should be careful not to overexert themselves, as this can lead to an A-fib episode.

Limit alcohol intake

A 2012 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found an association between moderate-to-high alcohol intake and A-fib among people aged 55 or older with heart disease or diabetes.

The study also adds that among people who drink moderately, the effect of binge drinking on the risk of A-fib was similar to that of regular heavy drinking.

According to another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, there is an association between individual A-fib episodes and higher odds of recent alcohol intake.

This research suggests that avoiding or limiting alcohol may be one way to stop an A-fib episode.

Quit smoking

According to a 2020 study published in the European Heart Journal, people who stopped smoking after an A-fib diagnosis had a lower risk of stroke compared with those who continued smoking.

One of the best ways for a person to reduce their risk of heart disease is to quit smoking.

Learn more about strategies to quit smoking here.

Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle

According to the AHA, a healthy diet and lifestyle are the keys to preventing and managing heart disease.

The AHA suggests a person eat an overall balanced diet that includes:

  • a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • healthy sources of protein such as nuts, fish, and lean meats
  • liquid nontropical vegetable oils
  • a minimal amount of added sugars and processed foods
  • foods prepared with little or no salt

Staying hydrated with adequate fluid intake throughout the day may help stop an A-fib episode.

Get adequate sleep

Lack of adequate sleep or obstructive sleep apnea may trigger an A-fib episode.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should aim for 7–9 hours of sleep a night.

Read more on tips for better sleep here.

Maintain a moderate weight

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may worsen health. Research shows obesity is a risk factor in the incidence and progression of A-fib.

Maintaining a healthy weight range can help prevent a person from developing or worsening A-fib.

Read tips for successful weight loss here.

Treat the underlying cause

Underlying medical causes can trigger an A-fib episode. Examples include:

Treating the underlying cause is a way for healthcare professionals to stop A-fib episodes.

Valsalva maneuver

The Valsalva maneuver increases pressure in the chest. If a person is experiencing a high heart rate with A-fib, this technique might help manage the problem.

However, more research is still necessary to determine whether the Valsalva maneuver can really manage an abnormal heart rhythm. At present, there is limited scientific data around these maneuvers.

Seeking medical care to ensure that proper medications are administered is very important, even if the A-fib is well-tolerated without significant side effects.

Read more about the Valsalva maneuver here.

A-fib happens when irregular electrical impulses cause the upper chambers of the heart to beat out of sync. This irregular heart rhythm may stop oxygen-rich blood from circulating throughout a person’s body.

A-fib affects at least 2.7 million people in the United States. It can lead to serious complications, such as heart failure and stroke.

Symptoms of A-fib vary from person to person and may include any of the following:

  • fluttering, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
  • racing, or fast heart rate
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint
  • shortness of breath or feeling winded with exercise
  • chest discomfort or uneasiness
  • feeling anxious

Sometimes, a person has no symptoms of A-fib. Rather, a doctor finds it on a routine exam or EKG.

The different types of A-fib include:

  • Paroxysmal (self-terminating or intermittent): Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation usually stops in fewer than 24 hours but may last up to a week. These episodes can recur.
  • Persistent: Persistent A-fib does not stop by itself within 7 days. It normally requires treatment with medications or procedures.
  • Long-term persistent: This type of A-fib lasts for over 1 year.

A-fib can lead to serious complications, such as a stroke or heart failure. Anyone who has symptoms of A-fib should see a doctor as soon as possible.

The doctor may recommend medications or medical procedures to control symptoms and decrease the risk of stroke.

A person should seek emergency medical treatment for:

  • a fainting spell or near fainting
  • sudden chest pain or pressure that spreads to the arms, back, neck, or jaw
  • difficulty speaking, weakness in the limbs, or drooping of the face

A-fib is a common type of irregular heartbeat that can lead to serious complications. Healthcare professionals typically treat A-fib with medications or medical procedures. Ways a person can try to stop an A-fib episode on their own include taking slow, deep breaths, or coughing.

The ideal way for a person to stop an A-fib episode is to see a doctor for evaluation and treatment of their symptoms, including treatment of any underlying disorders.