Have you ever felt like your heart is racing or skipping beats? This could be due to numerous reasons. You could have gotten good news or been excited to meet someone you have not met in a long time. On the other hand, it could be the nervousness and stress of a job interview. These are all normal heart flutters, which are abrupt and restricted to extremely emotional phases.
However, this very state of the heart could also be abnormal in some cases and is then known as atrial fibrillation. One of the most common queries regarding this cardiac condition is whether atrial fibrillation can be caused by anxiety. The relationship between mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and atrial fibrillation is complicated, but studies show evidence regarding stress-causing AFib.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a common heart condition where the heart beats at an unusually fast and irregular pace. The normal human heart rate falls somewhere between 60 to 100 beats per minute during rest. This rhythm disorder could be a result of electric signals traveling the wrong way to your heart, and may also be sometimes referred to as arrhythmia. Normally, your heart rate can be measured by checking your pulse on your neck or wrist.
With modern technology, you do not always have to visit a doctor to get your heart rate checked. Automatic tools that give a heart rate reading are now easily accessible at every store and can be used by people of all age groups. Most modern-day smart watches also have an in-built feature that measures your heart rate at rest or in motion.
Can Atrial Fibrillation Be Caused By Anxiety?
People generally wonder whether atrial fibrillation can be caused by anxiety. While anxiety may not exactly be the core reason a person develops AFib, it indirectly affects the heart rate. Stress and hypertension are the causes of high blood pressure, a common condition that leads to atrial fibrillation. So the question arises, can stress cause AFib? When you find yourself in extremely stressful situations, you may trigger an episode of your AFib condition or worsen your underlying symptoms. Stress is likely to increase your blood pressure, which causes atrial fibrillation, making it a common risk factor. If your job or daily life is stressful, you are more likely to worsen your underlying atrial fibrillation symptoms.
Some conditions that commonly lead to atrial fibrillation include
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Hyperthyroidism or an overly active thyroid
- Lung diseases, such as pulmonary embolism (presence of a blood clot in your lung), emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD
- Metabolic syndrome
- Post-heart surgery complications
- Sick sinus syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Viral infections
Other relatively more modifiable risk factors of AFib include:
- Medications, such as high doses of steroids (even OTC medications for the common cold, which contain caffeine)
- Stimulants, such as strong energy drinks, caffeine, cigarettes, etc.
How to Know If You Have Atrial Fibrillation?
Now that it is established that atrial fibrillation can be caused by anxiety, it is important to understand how to differentiate between the two. Not all anxious people have atrial fibrillation, and not all patients with atrial fibrillation will necessarily have anxiety or will be stressed out. Most people keep putting off visiting their doctor with their symptoms because they confuse them with normal tiredness and lethargy. In cases of aged people, they often think their AFib symptoms, such as shortness of breath, are because of their age factor and nothing more complicated.
You are likely to have AFib if you notice any of the following signs.
- A skipped heartbeat, followed by a thump
- Chest pain
- Fatigue or constant feelings of tiredness
- Feeling dizzy, faint, or light-headed
- Fluttering, racing, or pounding heartbeat
- Having to pee more often
- Pain, pressure, or tightness in your chest
- Rapid or irregular pulse
- Shortness of breath
Since the symptoms of AFib are basic and may overlap with those of old age, heart diseases, or other conditions, it is important to visit your doctor and get a diagnosis as soon as possible. The doctor is likely to figure out the underlying cause of atrial fibrillation, ensuring a prompt treatment initiation, which will work to control the symptoms.
How Anxiety Relates to AFib
The question of whether anxiety can cause atrial fibrillation or stress can cause AFib is widely speculated. While anxiety alone does not lead to the condition of atrial fibrillation, it does affect the patient’s episodes. As mentioned above, the most common risk factors of AFib include age, diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of atrial fibrillation. Anxiety and stress may have qualitative and quantitative effects on AFib episodes. It may increase either the frequency of episodes or the severity of each episode of atrial fibrillation.
While it has not been possible to establish a clear association of anxiety with atrial fibrillation due to limitations indicated in studies, it is seen that patients experience longer or more severe AFib episodes during high levels of anxiety and stress. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, and SSRIs are commonly evaluated to reduce the likelihood of an AFib episode occurring after stressful conditions, such as post-surgery.
How Anxiety May Trigger an AFib Episode
During feelings of anxiousness, the human body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol, which increase your blood pressure. While it is less likely for atrial fibrillation to be caused by anxiety, it can be a result of high blood pressure. Hence, anxiousness and stress may trigger an AFib episode.
Constantly being in stressful situations may cause anxiety disorders in some people. These could be a result of either emotional or physical stress, which has impacts on different parts of your body. Physical stresses include trauma, injury, sleep deprivation, sickness, and dehydration. Emotional stresses are a result of negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, and fear, experienced by a patient frequently or to a great extent in short bouts of time.
Feelings of stress and anxiety in multiple aspects of one’s life cause one to develop unhealthy habits or coping mechanisms. These include a poor diet, poor sleep schedule, and alcohol or caffeine consumption – all of which build-up, leading to increased blood pressure and eventually atrial fibrillation.
To manage episodic AFib, it is imperative to manage underlying stress and anxiety disorders. Anti-anxiety medications are known to have a calming effect on AFib episodes.
At present, the relation between anxiety and atrial fibrillation has not been fully established. More research is required to fully understand the effects of anxiety on atrial fibrillation. Consult a cardiologist or a heart rhythm specialist regarding your heart rate concerns and adopt relaxing activities and a healthy diet during the day to control or even prevent AFib triggers.
Contact our team of expert physicians and medical professionals at HG Analytics. We offer wellness screenings and use your reports to identify your health vulnerabilities so we can work together towards improving your health and lifestyle. Check out our blog on reading your heart scores to get a more detailed insight on heart rates and rhythms.