Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Can Atrial Fibrillation Cause a Heart Attack?
One of the biggest concerns people have during an arrhythmia is can atrial fibrillation cause a heart attack? Fortunately, with the right lifestyle and proper treatment, the answer is usually no. In this article, I’ll discuss how you can minimize the risk of a heart attack with atrial fibrillation.
Mark was afraid to exercise. He was sure he was going to have a heart attack if he did anything that was physically active. The biggest thing on Mark’s mind was, can atrial fibrillation cause a heart attack?
Mark worried that when his heart rate hit 160 beats per minute in atrial fibrillation that he must be doing damage to his heart. He kind of felt like he was “redlining” his heart much the same way you might “redline” your car from running the engine faster than it was designed to go.
Since his diagnosis of atrial fibrillation a month previously, Mark had stopped exercising. He had even stopped playing with his kids outside. He mostly just sat in a chair for fear that any activity might trigger atrial fibrillation or a heart attack.
With our initial visit I scheduled him for a stress echocardiogram and lab work to make sure that with the exception of his atrial fibrillation, the rest of his heart was healthy. Fortunately, his stress echocardiogram and lab work didn’t indicate any problems.
With a normal stress echocardiogram, I then got Mark on the lifestyle I described in our best selling book, The Longevity Plan. By optimizing his lifestyle in every way, and by providing him with some flecainide and metoprolol to be used only in the possibility of another atrial fibrillation attack, we had effectively dropped his heart attack risk as close to zero as possible.
Fortunately for Mark, optimizing his lifestyle was all that was needed to get his atrial fibrillation under control. While he has kept a dose of flecainide and metoprolol in his wallet at all times for an emergency, he has not had to take either of these medications yet…
Heart Attack Risk from Atrial Fibrillation
It is easy to see why many people confuse heart attack symptoms with atrial fibrillation symptoms. For example, both atrial fibrillation and a heart attack can cause shortness of breath and chest discomfort.
Based on a study we published many years ago, atrial fibrillation does indeed increase your risk of a heart attack. The good news though is that our studies also show that once the atrial fibrillation is properly treated, this increased risk goes away.
What is the Best Stress Test for Atrial Fibrillation?
When it comes to stress testing, my favorite is the stress echocardiogram. I like this test because it involves no radiation, no IV, and it provides the most information about the heart in a simple and cost-effective test.
For those patients who are unable to walk on a treadmill, I usually stress their hearts with a medication. The main downside is that these “chemical stress tests” generally involve radiation. In addition, the information you get from a chemical stress test is rather limited. Thus, I usually combine a chemical stress test with a resting echocardiogram. This way I can make the valves and other aspects of the heart are also functioning properly.
The Very Best Way to Prevent a Heart Attack
Heart attacks are largely a phenomenon of living a modern lifestyle. Indeed, heart attacks are very rare in cultures that have maintained their ancestral ways.
For example, in our book, The Longevity Plan, people living in and or around China’s Longevity Village didn’t get heart disease. Even among the centenarians, only 4% had heart disease. Atrial fibrillation was likewise rare in this group of people.
How these people were effectively able to avoid all of the medical conditions that afflicted those of us living in the modern world were spelled out in this book. The bottom line is that only eating real food (no sugar or processed carbs/foods, etc.), maintaining a lean weight, exercising every day, connecting with friends and family on a daily basis and optimizing sleep and stress levels can prevent at least 90% of all heart conditions.
The take-home message is that with a healthy lifestyle, like the one we described in our book The Longevity Plan, a normal stress echocardiogram, and being under the care of a cardiologist specializing in arrhythmias (electrophysiologist), the chances of atrial fibrillation triggering a heart attack are incredibly low. Of course, if you are experiencing chest discomfort, or any other symptom possibly related to your heart, please let your doctor know immediately.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.