Alcohol Caffeine Are Common Triggers Of Irregular Heart Rhythm
By Manas Mishra
4 Min Read
– The most common triggers of atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm thats a leading cause of stroke – are avoidable behaviors like drinking alcohol or coffee, a recent study suggests.
People dont always realize when theyre experiencing atrial fibrillation, or AFib, but some feel unpleasant chest palpitations or a racing, irregular heartbeat.
Some patients have AFib 24 hours a day. In others, the irregular heartbeat is paroxysmal, that is, it comes and goes. For the current study, reported in the journal Heart Rhythm, researchers surveyed 1,295 patients with symptomatic paroxysmal AFib and found the most common behaviors that triggered episodes of the arrhythmia were alcohol consumption, caffeine consumption and exercise.
The survey asked about 11 possible triggers: alcohol, caffeine, lack of sleep, exercise, not exercising, consuming cold beverages, consuming cold foods, high sodium diet, consuming large meals, dehydration, and lying on ones left side.
About three-fourths of the patients said at least one of those behaviors triggered AFib some or all of the time.
Alcohol consumption was cited by 35 percent, followed by coffee drinking , exercise and lack of sleep .
The researchers say its possible the behaviors dont actually trigger the episodes but instead make the symptoms worse.
The study wasnt designed to tell whether cutting back on these triggers would reduce the frequency of AFib episodes.
Balancing Coffee Benefits And Risks
Coffee is not without risk: It can cause stomach and esophageal irritation and injury, loss of electrolytes such as calcium and magnesium in your body, and bone loss. Coffee can also impact the quality and length of your sleep. And as many people are aware, caffeine can be addictive, impacting the quality of life for some people. As with other aspects of lifestyle I’ve discussed in my other columns, a moderate approach to drinking coffee is always a good rule to follow.
But lets return now to Pete. I told him, “I agree that you should improve your exercise, work on weight loss, and eat a diet heavily based on fruits, vegetables, and nuts. But I have no data to suggest that you should stop drinking coffee to lower your risk of atrial fibrillation. In fact, if your use was moderate, then drinking coffee may actually lower your risk.”
Coffee And Energy Drinks: Not All Caffeinated Products Are The Same
It makes sense that coffee may cause heart problems. Coffee contains caffeine, a heart stimulant that can elevate heart rate and cause palpitations. Atrial fibrillation is a fast, abnormal heart rhythm that can also cause palpitations. When you put the two facts together, cutting coffee out of your diet seems like a reasonable lifestyle change to prevent future electrical problems in your heart.
In my experience, people typically group all caffeinated products together when they talk about lifestyle changes. I want to consider coffee alone. Energy drinks are their own distinct product, and as such can convey unique risks different from coffee, tea, or sodas. These drinks often contain very high levels of caffeine in addition to one or more heart stimulants, and the multiple stimulants can be a dangerous mix for people who are vulnerable to abnormal heart rhythms.
I’ve seen young people die from cardiac arrest who consumed multiple energy drinks and then exercised, but I’ve never seen such events in people who drink coffee.
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Measurement Of Caffeine Consumption
All cohort members completed a detailed, semiquantitative food-frequency questionnaire . Descriptions of the development and validation of this questionnaire were published previously . The daily intake of specific foods and nutrients was calculated from the FFQ for each participant with the use of FOODCALC software . Standard recipes and sex-specific portion sizes were applied to calculate intake in grams per day by using data from different sourcesie, the 1995 Danish National Dietary Survey , 24-h diet recall interviews from 3818 of the study participants , and various cook books. We summed the daily intake of caffeine from coffee, tea, cola, cocoa, and chocolate for each subject.
Can Dehydration Cause Atrial Fibrillation
Another thing that can lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation is dehydration. Dehydration is a very common trigger for atrial fibrillation and brings together some of the other points that I discussed earlier, topics like caffeine, dehydration, and stress. Some of the things that lead to the episode of atrial fibrillation is actually the dehydration. Caffeine and alcohol, for example, are powerful diuretics. As a result, if you’re not drinking enough water to supplement, you can become dehydrated. Any type of dehydration can lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation.
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Consider A Magnesium Supplement
Some research suggests that getting enough magnesium may lower the risk of AFib. One study showed that people who had low magnesium levels were more likely to develop AFib. In another, people in an ER for atrial fibrillation who got magnesium along with usual care were more likely to return to a normal pulse than those given a placebo. The jury is still out, as not all the research supports this. So you may want to ask your doctor if itâs a good idea to take a magnesium supplement.
An Overview About Caffeine
Caffeine is a substance found in over 60 plants such as coffee beans, kola nuts, cacao pods, guarana and tea leaves.
It falls into the stimulant category because it increases heart rate and blood pressure. It also functions as a diuretic due to its tendency to rid the body of excess water.
Caffeine is present in the following foods and beverages:
- Rapid or abnormal heart rhythm.
- Restlessness and shakiness.
Foods To Avoid If You Are Suffering From Atrial Fibrillation
If you have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, some parts of your lifestyle may affect your diagnosis. Those with this disorder may find that they need to improve their diets in order to decrease the effects of their atrial fibrillation.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation, commonly referred to as AFIB, is an issue with the hearts two atria chambers and is characterized by an irregular and rapid heart rate. If the upper two atria of the heart start consistently beating abnormally, and not in sync with the bottom chambers, it can be a sign that you have or may develop atrial fibrillation. Some common symptoms of AFIB include:
- Heart palpitations
Experiencing any of these symptoms doesnt necessarily mean that you are suffering from atrial fibrillation, however, if these symptoms are felt consistently it may need medical intervention. It is important to get treatment for this disease because if it goes untreated, it can lead to:
- Heart failure
What Causes AFIB?
There is no one particular cause for atrial fibrillation. There are several theories on what may trigger or start an episode of atrial fibrillation. Certain groups of people are at a higher risk for developing AFIB. Some of the people most likely to develop atrial fibrillation are those who:
- Have high blood pressure
- Were born with congenital heart disease
- Have heart valve disease
- Are diagnosed with a lung disease
- Have slow heartbeat, sick sinus syndrome
Does Coffee Disturb Your Hearts Rhythm
BERLIN, GERMANY – JANUARY 24: Cups of just-brewed flat white, a variation on the classic … cappuccino, stand on a counter at Bonanza Coffee Roasters on January 24, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. Bonanza founder Kiduk Reus is among a growing number of so-called third wave artisinal coffee bean roasters who are finding a niche market in Europe and the USA for their carefully-crafted and expensive coffee. Reus insists that the cast iron parts, the slow-roasting abilities and hands-on controls of his flame-roasting, refurbished 1918 Probat machine allow him to develop the most flavour from his carefully selected beans.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia in the U.S. and Europe, affecting millions of people every day. A-fib is a condition where your heart beats irregularly and less efficiently than normal. Some people experience a-fib without even being aware of it, but it is a serious condition that leads to an estimated 750,000 hospitalizations per year in the U.S. alone.
As appealing as it sounds, this advice is wrong, at least for men.
In a study published in 2019 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Vijaykumar Bodar and colleagues at Harvard Medical School looked at data from nearly 19,000 men who participated in the long-term Physicians Health Study. They looked at the risk of atrial fibrillation in men drinking anywhere from no coffee at all to 4 or more cups per day.
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Continue Learning About Atrial Fibrillation
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.
Over The Counter Supplements
Another thing that can trigger episodes of atrial fibrillation is over-the-counter supplements, particularly over-the-counter cold medications. Several over-the-counter cold medications contain a stimulant in them. If a cold supplement had a âDâ in part of the name, that âDâ stands for a decongestant, and that’s usually some type of stimulant. It makes you feel better when you’re sick, but it can also stimulate your heart and cause episodes of atrial fibrillation.
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Are Alcohol And Caffeine Triggers That Can Cause A
Many health experts believe there is a connection between caffeine, alcohol, and A-fib, and that either substance can trigger an attack. However, researchers are still investigating the specific causes.
Many factors identified as possible triggers for A-fib may work alone or together to cause the condition. This makes it difficult to establish what is or is not a trigger.
As a result, it is also hard to work out how much coffee or alcohol could trigger an episode of A-fib.
Alcohol is a known trigger for a specific form of A-fib known as holiday heart syndrome . HHS is the sudden appearance of A-fib in individuals who are otherwise healthy, but who recently took part in binge drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define binge drinking as more than five drinks for men and four drinks for women in a 2-hour period.
Researchers have noticed these cases are more frequent after weekends and holidays linked with increased alcohol use, which is how HHS got its name.
In addition, some studies have found a connection between the risk of A-fib and chronic, alcohol use. A connection was not found for moderate drinkers.
A 2005 study exploring caffeine use in Scandinavia did not find any connection between A-fib and caffeine use.
The scientific community is divided on whether or not people with A-fib can consume alcohol or caffeine safely.
The American Heart Association advise individuals with A-fib to avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine.
What Are Heart Palpitations
Most of the time, youre likely unaware of the beating or rhythm of your heart. A normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats-per-minute, and the heart has a characteristic rhythm when it beats. Unless your heart is beating fast or hard, you likely wont notice it beating.
Heart palpitations are the feeling that your heart is beating irregularly. It may feel like its pounding, beating too fast, or fluttering. Common causes of heart palpitations include:
- Certain medications
Stimulants, including caffeine, are known to affect heart rate, but just how does caffeine affect the heart?
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Dunk Your Head In Cold Water
As the old saying goes, âMay cooler heads prevail,â and that holds especially true if you have an episode of AFib with a rapid heart rate. When you dip your head in cold water or take a cold shower, you stimulate the vagal nerve, which slows your heart rate. Even holding an ice cube to your forehead or standing at an open freezer door for a few minutes may do the trick.
Is Caffeine Safe Protective For Patients With Afib Arrhythmias
Some caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea may be safe and may reduce the frequency of arrhythmias, according to a state-of-the-art-review published April 16 in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology.
Aleksandr Voskoboinik, MBBS, et al., analyzed multiple population-based studies to determine an association between caffeine intake and its effects on atrial and ventricular arrhythmias. The studies consistently showed a decrease in atrial fibrillation with an increase in caffeine ingestion, with one meta-analysis of 228,465 participants showing AFib frequency decreasing by 6 percent in regular coffee drinkers, and a further analysis of 115,993 patients showing a 13 percent risk reduction.
The authors found that caffeine does not appear to increase the likelihood of ventricular arrhythmia. In addition, caffeine doses up to 500 mg daily did not increase the severity or rate of ventricular arrhythmias. A randomized study of 103 post-MI patients who received an average of 353 mg/day resulted in improved heart rate and no significant arrhythmias. Only two studies showed an increased risk for ventricular arrhythmias, in which patients ingested at least 10 cups and nine cups per day, respectively. According to the authors, energy drinks should be avoided by patients with pre-existing heart conditions. Three quarters of patients with pre-existing heart conditions who consumed two or more energy drinks per day reported palpitations within 24 hours.
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Large Meals/specific Food Triggers
Why would food a large meal or a specific food be a trigger of an AFib attack? Perhaps because gastrointestinal problems, including stretching your stomach from a large meal, areknown to stimulate the vagus nerve, which connects your gut, brain and heart.We don understand this connection in depth, but our research has shownthat gastrointestinal distress, like from a large meal, are associated with atrial fibrillation. Also,when those gastrointestinal issues have resolved, the AFib usually settles downas well.
We have also had many patients report to us over the years that sugar, fastfoods, foods with caffeine, processed foods, fried foods, or really spicy foodshave also been atrial fibrillation triggersot just contributors to the risingrisk of getting AFib in the first place. Once again, all of these triggers probablyhad something to do with vagus nerve stimulation or glucose fluctuations.Surprisingly, in 30 years of seeing AFib patients, I have yet to hear a patient report to me that broccoli or kale triggered an AFib attack.
Is Caffeine Causing My Heart Palpitations
For years researchers believed caffeines stimulant effects on the heart were responsible for heart palpitations. Recent research suggests this isnt necessarily the case. That doesnt mean caffeine isnt causing your heart symptoms, and it doesnt vindicate caffeine completely.
The body adapts to the effects of caffeine. Therefore, healthy people who regularly drink coffee are unlikely to experience symptoms such as heart palpitations. Caffeine can cause heart palpitations in people with a sensitivity to caffeine and those with an underlying heart condition.
If youre new to caffeine consumption or drink excess amounts, youre more likely to experience heart symptoms. The only way to know for sure is to visit a heart specialist for a checkup.
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See How Caffeine Makes You Feel
Although the research doesnt currently support a link between caffeine and arrhythmias, if you find caffeine seems to worsen the condition, consider cutting down.
There are patients who may be sensitive to caffeine and note the onset of palpitations or worsening palpitations with low or any caffeine intake, Van Herle says. I usually advise my patients with palpitations that are worsened with caffeine to cut down if they can and reassure others with arrhythmias, that are not affected by caffeine, that they can continue to use it in moderate amounts.
But there might be one exception to the caffeine rule for heart health. In general I do advise my patients to stay away from high energy drinks that contain very high caffeine content, Van Herle adds.
Irregular heartbeat, which can feel like a fluttering or racing heart, is a cause for concern because it may mean your heart isnt working properly. It can be a sign of heart disease, including coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathy . But, according to the American Heart Association, most arrhythmias are actually harmless. Only a doctor can tell for sure, so report an arrhythmia to your health care professional if you experience it.
Caffeine And Heart Rate Control
Heart rate control is a primary goal for managing AFib, as keeping a pulse between 80 and 110 at rest will reduce the heart muscles workload. AFib medications, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, will regulate heart rate, and in some cases a pacemaker is necessary.
Caffeine can speed up heart rate due to its stimulant properties, and as a result, people with AF are often advised to avoid caffeine or keep intake low because it will trigger an episode.
- WebMDs information about AF states that stimulants like caffeine can prompt an occurrence, but that it is more likely to happen in people who do not usually consume it.
- Mayo Clinic indicates that caffeine may cause AF, and recommends limiting intake or abstaining.
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Feel Free To Enjoy That Coffee Without Worrying About Your Heart New Research Says
If youve been told to avoid coffee because it might make your heart beat irregularly, recent research suggests it may be time to rethink that recommendation.
Theres this quite pervasive conventional wisdom that people who have or are at risk of arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, should avoid caffeine, said Gregory Marcus, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Many patients who come to see him have already been told by other doctors to steer clear of caffeinated products, such as coffee, he said.
But a growing body of scientific research, including a new study conducted by Marcus and other researchers at UCSF, suggests that such advice may be unnecessarily depriving many people of their daily coffee fix.
The latest study analyzed data from more than 380,000 people and found that coffee drinking habits were not associated with an increased risk of arrhythmias. Neither was an individuals ability to metabolize caffeine, according to the results, in JAMA Internal Medicine.
In fact, analysis of self-reported coffee consumption appeared to indicate that those who drank more had a potentially lower risk of developing certain types of arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation, or AFib, which can cause blood clots, stroke and heart failure, among other health complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with the condition, according to the American Heart Association.