Last Updated on September 20, 2023
Can atrial fibrillation be caused by anxiety?” is a rational question requiring attention.
Irregular heart rhythms, also known as arrhythmia, may result from anxiety and cardiac conditions, the most common of which is atrial fibrillation (AFib). It is a relatively common cardiac rhythm disturbance that presents in various ways and has multiple underlying causes. An estimated 33.5 million people suffer from atrial fibrillation (AFib), which leaves them at risk of one of its most dangerous complications—Stroke. Its association with anxiety further complicates the understanding and management of this condition. To combat the symptoms of atrial fibrillation anticoagulants are prescribed. However, these medications come with their fair share of risks and benefits. To investigate advanced novel therapies with lesser risks and to help individuals suffering from fluttering heart rhythms of AFib, Prime Revival Research Institute conducts AFib Clinical Trials. Participate today to access potential novel therapies.
Let’s dig deep into atrial fibrillation, exploring its symptoms, causes, and treatment options. In addition, the question “Can atrial fibrillation be caused by anxiety” is also covered in this blog.
Understanding Atrial Fibrillation: An Overview of Fluttering Heartbeats in AFib
An array of episodic or persistent symptoms reflecting AFib may occasionally arise, known as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. The duration of symptoms may vary in every individual, lasting from minutes to hours or lingering for up to a week. The condition bears no life-threatening risks but may lead to stroke and death if left untreated.
It can manifest in various ways, but common symptoms include:
- Palpitations (a rapid sensation of irregular pounding heartbeats)
- Fatigue and weakness
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Reduced ability to exercise
Can AFib be caused by anxiety?” Well, the answer is multifactorial.
In AFib, the alternation in the heart rhythm arises from the non-synchronous beating of the heart’s upper and lower chambers. The clot formation with AFib increases the risk of heart failure and stroke.
Listed below are some of the prevalent causes of AFib:
- High blood pressure: Elevated blood pressure can cause changes in the heart’s tissue structure, predisposing to atrial fibrillation.
- Valvular heart diseases: Malfunctioning heart valves can increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
- Chronic lung diseases: Chronic inflammation and reduced oxygen levels in the blood could lead to structural and functional changes in the heart and ultimately contribute to irregular heart rhythms of AFib.
- Pulmonary embolism: Blockage in the artery of the lungs from a blood clot could cause the heart to work overtime to pump blood and supply oxygen, triggering AFib.
- Hyperthyroidism: An overactive thyroid gland, such as that in hyperthyroidism, accelerates the heart rate and can lead to atrial fibrillation.
- Alcohol or caffeine consumption: Excessive caffeine intake or drug abuse can trigger an AFib episode. In a few instances, methamphetamine abuse can also cause AFib.
- Age: Other physiological factors such as aging may increase the possibility of Afib
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea, especially untreated sleep apnea, might affect the rhythmic function of the heart. Interruptions in breathing and intermittent drops in oxygen levels lead to oxidative stress and microscopic injury to the cardiovascular structures, including the atria (upper heart chambers), contributing to AFib or further worsening of the existing condition.
Management of Atrial Fibrillation
The management of atrial fibrillation is multifaceted, based on the severity, cause, and associated risks.
Heart palpitations and raised heart rate are predominant signs of AFib, potentiating the need for medications that reduce heart rate and relieve symptoms of AFib.
- Beta-blockers (e.g., metoprolol) and calcium channel blockers (e.g., diltiazem) are the commonly used medications to control the heart rate.
- The use of digoxin has run out and is no longer recommended for controlling heart rate.
The return of heart rhythm to normal or trying to stabilize it requires chemical and pharmacological agents.
- Na+ and K+ Channel Blockers: Sodium and potassium channel blockers like flecainide or amiodarone can help maintain a normal heart rhythm.
- Ablation: In ablation, an area of the heart causing atrial fibrillation is targeted to restore normal rhythm.
- Pacemaker placement: In some cases, individuals with AFib may develop a slow heart rate, known as bradycardia in response to medications or other treatments. In such situations, a pacemaker may be considered as part of the treatment plan
- Cardioversion: There are two main types of cardioversion: electrical and chemical. In electric cardioversion, an electric shock is delivered to the heart through electrodes, intended to reset the heart’s electrical signals, allowing it to return to a normal rhythm. Chemical cardioversion is considered when electrical cardioversion is not suitable.
- Maze procedure: It is a form of open heart surgery in which the heart tissues responsible for producing abnormal heart rhythms are excised.
Also, read: Systolic vs. Diastolic Heart Failure
Due to the risk of clot formation in atrial fibrillation, anticoagulant medications, such as warfarin or newer agents like dabigatran, may be prescribed.
One major drawback of blood thinners is an increased risk of bleeding. However, for most people, the benefits of preventing blood clots outweigh the risks of bleeding, mainly if the individual is at risk of stroke.
Can Atrial Fibrillation be Caused by Anxiety?
The relationship between atrial fibrillation and anxiety is bidirectional. Increased anxiety levels cause an overactive sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight-or-flight response and allowing the body to respond to perceived threats. Therefore, to some extent, the answer to the question “ Can atrial fibrillation be caused by anxiety? Is YES!
Moreover, an overactive sympathetic nervous system causes an increase in catecholamines, a chemical that works as a hormone and neurotransmitter in the body. A consequence of high catecholamines is that it can trigger stress cardiomyopathy, a sudden weakening of the heart muscle due to intense emotional or physical stress.
Conversely, AFib can induce anxiety due to its unpredictable nature and the physical sensations it produces.
According to case studies, patients with atrial fibrillation often report higher anxiety levels than the general population. This increased anxiety can adversely impact their quality of life and cardiac outcomes.
Understanding the complex interplay between anxiety and AFib is crucial to managing the symptoms of AFib.
- In severe cases, addressing anxiety may help reduce AFib occurrence or severity.
- In addition, behavioral interventions, counseling, and medications might also be beneficial for both AFib and associated anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some of the commonly suggested ways to cope with stress are:
- Relax and step away from stressful circumstances
- Resort to relaxing activities such as listening to music, yoga, meditation, or body massage
- Eat a rich, balanced diet, and try not to skip meals
- Limit the dose of substances like alcohol and caffeine that can worsen anxiety
- Incorporate any form of physical exercise to promote mental well-being
- Get enough quality sleep
- Practice breathing exercises by inhaling and exhaling slowly
About Prime Revival’s AFib Study
At Prime Revival Research Institute, AFib Clinical Trials are enrolling participants, investigating a potential atrial fibrillation treatment option that may help reduce the risk of stroke and lower the risk of bleeding.
To be able to participate in the Atrial Fibrillation Clinical Trials, specific participation criteria are present:
- Should be 18 years or older
- Have a documented diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation within the last 12 months
In conclusion, in this blog the question “ Can atrial fibrillation be caused by anxiety?” is addressed because atrial fibrillation is a complex condition with several causes and manifestations. The intricate relationship between AFib and anxiety underscores the importance of a holistic approach to patient care. Addressing both the cardiac and psychological dimensions of AFib can provide a more comprehensive and effective treatment paradigm. It is crucial to consult healthcare professionals to prevent the worsening of the disease.