Dr. John Day
Dr. Day is a cardiologist specializing in heart rhythm abnormalities at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
The 7 Most Important AFib Triggers to Avoid
A new study was just published identifying the most important AFib triggers to avoid. Avoiding AFib triggers is incredibly important for AFib patients and something we covered in our best-selling book, The AFib Cure. In this article, I discuss the 7 most important AFib triggers to avoid based on published medical studies and my 30 years of experience caring for AFib patients.
What are your AFib triggers?
While most of my patients can identify at least one specific AFib trigger, many cannot. For some of my patients, AFib attacks are 100% random events so they don’t have any clearly identifiable triggers. If you can identify one or more AFib triggers, then avoiding these triggers can be a very effective way of putting your AFib into remission naturally.
At the top of every published study of AFib triggers is alcohol. Sadly, there is no safe dose of alcohol for AFib patients. And that shouldn’t come as a big surprise as any emergency room doctor can share many stories of high school or college students who have presented with AFib after binge drinking.
Exercise is the most natural way in the world to shift our hearts into a higher gear, so it’s no shock that, if your heart is already prone to beating erratically, a quick burst of exercise could push it over the edge. But avoiding exercise is simply not an option as not exercising at all dramatically increases your risk of AFib and an early death.
For those suffering from exercise-induced AFib, many of my patients have found that simply decreasing the intensity or duration of their exercise can help tremendously. For others, they can still exercise vigorously without AFib provided they have slept well, are well hydrated, and have their electrolytes in check.
When nothing prevents exercise-induced AFib, it is time to consider an ablation. Indeed, I have countless patients, including elite world-class athletes, who have all successfully returned to high levels of exercise free of AFib with an ablation procedure.
3. Dehydration/Electrolyte Depletion
It always amazes me how so many of my patients’ AFib attacks come from when they aren’t drinking enough water. Indeed, many of my patients fail to realize that their fatigue, dry skin, headaches, muscle cramps, urinary tract infections, constipation, dizziness, brain fog, or their AFib all happen because they aren’t drinking enough water. And proper hydration is especially important for AFib patients before exercising.
In addition to adequate hydration, optimization of electrolytes is also necessary to keep the heart beating right in sinus rhythm. For example, potassium and magnesium depletion are well documented AFib triggers in the medical literature. Fortunately, both can easily be replenished with a diet high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc. Indeed, many of my patients report that magnesium supplementation has been essential to keeping their AFib in remission.
When it comes to optimizing your electrolytes, please don’t turn to sports drinks. Sport drinks are nothing more than sugar water or artificial sweetener water with chemical dyes and a trace amount of electrolytes. If your goal is to optimize for sinus rhythm and longevity, get all the electrolytes your body needs from natural food sources like vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc.
4. Poor Sleep
A bad night of sleep is another big AFib trigger. Bad sleep could be from sleep deprivation or sleep apnea. Indeed, studies show that a bad night of sleep increases your risk of AFib 3x the next day and sleep apnea quadruples your AFib risk. Make restorative sleep a priority!
While sleeping on your left side is often uncomfortable for AFib patients, a recent study did not show an increased risk. So, while you may feel more palpitations when sleeping on the left side from gravity pulling your heart toward your chest wall, it probably won’t cause an AFib attack.
When you’re stressed your blood pressure is up and adrenalin is pounding through your veins. So it should come as no surprise that on the days you wake up stressed or anxious studies show your risk of AFib on these days is 5 times higher!
If you suffer from AFib, find ways to manage your stress. Good sleep, sunlight, and a great workout in the mountains always cures me of any stress. For others, prayer, meditation, yoga, or spending time with a friend can also be incredibly helpful. Find what works for you and optimizes your stress levels.
6. Unhealthy Foods, Over Eating, and Cold Foods/Drinks
Stuffing your belly full of food or eating junk may also trigger an AFib attack. Why would food be a trigger? Perhaps the high salt and sugar load of processed or fast foods trigger the attack from a blood pressure spike or fluid retention. Or perhaps it is because specific foods may irritate gastrointestinal problems. And GI problems are known to stimulate the vagus nerve, which connects your gut, brain, and heart.
We don’t understand this vagus nerve connection in-depth, but our research has shown that gastrointestinal diseases are associated with atrial fibrillation. Also, when those gastrointestinal issues have been resolved, the AFib usually settles down as well. And cold foods and cold drinks are well known to stimulate the vagus nerve in ways that might put you at risk for an AFib attack.
As I often tell my patients, in my 30 years of caring for AFib patients I’ve yet to meet a patient who reported that broccoli triggered an AFib attack!
7. Energy Drinks
While most of my patients are convinced that caffeine is an AFib trigger, the studies simply don’t support this. While I’m sure some of my patients are truly caffeine sensitive, most are not. If you are caffeine sensitive then it is best to avoid it.
However, there is one form of caffeine that is particularly problematic for all of my patients. And that is energy drinks. There is something bad about combining a bunch of chemicals with sugar/artificial sweeteners and massive doses of caffeine that send hearts into AFib.
If your goal is to beat AFib, you’ll need to avoid your AFib triggers. Even if you have had a successful ablation, you still should avoid your triggers. As alcohol can cause a perfectly normal teenagers’ heart to go into AFib, why should it be any different if you are 50 and have had an ablation?
If you want to learn more about stopping AFib, be sure to check out our best-selling book, The AFib Cure. To see one of the EP’s in our practice, please call my team at 801-266-3418 (sorry telemedicine visits outside of the state of Utah are no longer possible due to government regulations).
Also, if you liked the photo attached to this article, it is another picture of an evening run I just went on with my daughter. We are standing on the old pipeline remnants of the Pipeline Trail up Millcreek Canyon overlooking Salt Lake City, Utah.
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.