Afib triggers such as alcohol, smoking, exercise, and over-the-counter cough and cold medications are not the only harmful risks. Other things like stress, pollution, and hormones can bring on an afib attack as well.
From its triggers to its symptoms, atrial fibrillation (afib) can be unpredictable. “Just as you can have atrial fibrillation without visible symptoms, you can experience an attack of atrial fibrillation without a trigger,” says Smit Vasaiwala, MD, an assistant professor of cardiology at the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Illinois. But most people are able to identify at least some of their afib triggers, and this knowledge can help decrease the frequency of attacks and lower your risk for stroke.
You’re probably aware of common afib triggers, including alcohol, smoking, exercise, and over-the-counter cough and cold medications. But have you considered these five lesser-known triggers that can be just as harmful to your heart?
1. Mental, Emotional, and Job-Related Stress
“There have been a number of studies linking mental health and mental stress with afib,” says John Day, MD, a cardiologist specializing in the treatment of afib and other abnormal heart rhythm conditions at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. “For example, research has shown that on days when people are feeling very anxious, stressed, or angry, the likelihood that their heart will go out of rhythm is significantly increased.”
A study published in May 2018 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that job-related stress, or “job strain,” was associated with nearly a 50 percent increased risk of afib. Another study, published November 2018 in the American Journal of Cardiology, found that traumatic events such as a life-threatening illness were significantly associated with afib among women. Even perceived stress can increase a person’s risk of afib, according to a study from June 2015 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
“The heart is often a manifestation of what’s going on in our lives. This can include situations that cause stress, anxiety, depression, and anger,” says Dr. Day. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to all aspects of health, including your physical, mental, emotional, and relationship health.
2. Air Pollution and Environmental Factors
Although the research is still emerging, some studies have demonstrated an association between air pollution and a higher risk of afib. A study published June 2017 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that increased exposure to air pollutants within the previous 24 hours was associated with a greater number of afib-related emergency room visits.
In a study published in March 2017 in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers in Denmark found that long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution correlated with a higher risk of afib.
3. Certain Foods and Beverages
The triggers for afib can be very specific to the patient, notes Mark (Nathan A.)_Estes, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “In some cases, patients experience increased afib episodes after eating cold foods like ice cream or cold drinks.” Other patients report more afib episodes after eating certain types of cuisines, such as Chinese food. The main thing is to be aware of your specific food-related triggers. It may help to keep a food journal in order to know which foods may be associated with your episodes.
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