Can Atrial Fibrillation Be Caused By Anxiety?

can atrial fibrillation be caused by anxiety?

Many factors can contribute to developing or exacerbating atrial fibrillation (AF), characterized by an irregular and often rapid heart rhythm. Not to be confused with sleep apnea, which indirectly affects the heartbeat due to lack of oxygen received (While sleeping). However, one potential factor that has gained attention in recent years is anxiety. Emotional health affects heart conditions, and anxiety, in particular, can trigger or exacerbate various cardiovascular issues. But can it cause atrial fibrillation?

Closer To The Heart . . .

  • Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a medical condition that induces a rapid and irregular heartbeat, originating from inconsistent rhythms in the heart’s upper and lower chambers.
  • Various elements can instigate AF, including elevated blood pressure, heart diseases, obesity, age, and conditions like sleep apnea.
  • Anxiety and stress have been identified as potential triggers for AF episodes. The physiological responses to anxiety may provoke the irregular heartbeat associated with AF.
  • AF patients with co-existing anxiety conditions have reported higher heart rates and more frequent AF recurrences. Treatment for anxiety has been linked to reduced AF episodes.
  • While anxiety cannot directly cause AF, it can exacerbate the condition. Managing anxiety is integral for improving the quality of life in AF patients and reducing stress impacts on heart health.
  • Various anxiety management techniques, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), relaxation techniques, and lifestyle modifications, can reduce individuals’ risk of AF episodes.
  • Mental health experts recommend professional assistance for individuals struggling with anxiety, which could help manage AF more effectively.

Understanding What Atrial Fibrillation is All About

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a cardiac disorder characterized by an irregular and frequently rapid heart rhythm. This condition develops when the two tiny upper heart chambers (Atria) beat erratically and out of sync with the two lower chambers (Ventricles). AF can occur in episodes that last from minutes to hours or even persist for days or more extended periods. In some instances, atrial fibrillation can be asymptomatic and unnoticed, whereas, in others, it can cause significant distress and severe symptoms, including heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

AF can develop due to various factors, including age, high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, obesity, sleep apnea, and excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption. The condition can also occur without an underlying cause, known as lone AF.

Causes and Risk Factors of Atrial Fibrillation

As mentioned, AF can be caused by a range of factors. Some of the common causes and risk factors include:

  • Age: The risk of developing AF increases, particularly in those over 60.
  • High Blood Pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage the heart and increase the risk of AF.
  • Heart Disease: Underlying heart conditions, such as coronary artery disease, heart valve problems, or previous heart surgery, can raise the risk of AF. Be vigilant when issues with your heart or testes occur.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can strain the heart and raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of AF.
  • Sleep Apnea: This disorder causes breathing difficulties during sleep, leading to low oxygen levels that can damage the heart and cause AF.
  • Excessive Alcohol or Caffeine Intake: Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine can trigger AF episodes.

Sometimes, AF can occur without an underlying cause, known as lone AF. In such cases, the condition is more common in younger individuals and those with a family history of AF. Identifying and managing any underlying conditions or risk factors leading to AF is crucial to prevent or manage its onset effectively.

The Connection Between Anxiety and Atrial Fibrillation

Research has shown that anxiety and stress can trigger atrial fibrillation (AF) episodes, and a growing body of evidence suggests a link between emotional factors and this heart condition. While the exact mechanism behind this relationship remains unclear, it is believed that the physiological effects of anxiety may contribute to the irregular heart rhythm seen in AF. If a person already has some anxiety disorders, they are more likely to experience AF than those without anxiety. One study showed that patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were more likely to develop AF than those without PTSD.

Furthermore, it has been observed that anxiety can worsen AF symptoms and increase the frequency of AF episodes. In some cases, anxiety-induced AF can even lead to hospitalization or require medical intervention. Not all cases of AF are caused by anxiety, and underlying medical conditions or genetic factors can also contribute to its development. However, managing anxiety can significantly improve the quality of life for AF patients and minimize the impact of stress and emotional triggers on their heart health.

Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial for individuals with AF and anxiety. They can provide personalized advice on managing stress and developing coping strategies. In some cases, medication or therapy may be recommended to manage anxiety, in addition to heart medications to regulate AF.

Research and Studies on Anxiety-Induced Atrial Fibrillation

Several studies have focused on analyzing the relationship between anxiety and atrial fibrillation. The consensus among researchers is that anxiety can trigger or exacerbate AF episodes. A study by the University of Adelaide in Australia found that patients with both AF and anxiety had significantly higher heart rates and more frequent AF recurrences than those without anxiety. The study also revealed that using anxiety medication was associated with a reduced occurrence of AF episodes.

Research Study Key Findings
Psychological Distress and Risk of Atrial Fibrillation High levels of psychological stress were associated with an increased risk of AF among both men and women.
The Association Between Anxiety and Atrial Fibrillation Anxiety was a significant predictor of AF recurrence, especially in patients with paroxysmal AF.
Relation of Anxiety and Anger with Atrial Fibrillation Both anxiety and anger were associated with an increased risk of AF, even after controlling for other risk factors.
PLEASE NOTE: These studies suggest that the relationship between anxiety and AF is not coincidental. Anxiety, stress, and emotional instability can trigger physiological changes that lead to AF episodes.

However, it is also important to note that anxiety is not the only contributing factor to AF.  Other factors, such as age, obesity, and alcohol consumption, can also contribute to atrial fibrillation (AF) onset or progression. In the anxiety-AF connection, the evidence is clear that managing anxiety is crucial for individuals with AF to prevent AF episodes and improve overall heart health.

Managing Anxiety for Atrial Fibrillation Patients

Managing anxiety effectively reduces the risk of AF episodes for individuals with atrial fibrillation. Below are some proven techniques and strategies that can help:

Anxiety Management Techniques

  • Lifestyle Modifications: By making minor adjustments to their daily regimen, patients with atrial fibrillation can significantly reduce their anxiety levels. Simple measures such as regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and sufficient sleep can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety.
  • CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This therapy can assist individuals in reframing their anxious thoughts and developing more effective stress management skills. It entails collaborating with a therapist to identify detrimental behaviors.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Various relaxation techniques can help minimize anxiety levels, including meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. Yoga and tai chi may also promote peace and reduce stress.
  • Support Networks: Joining a support group or online forum with other AF patients can provide a valuable sense of community and emotional support.

Coping Strategies

Identifying Triggers: Identifying the triggers that lead to AF episodes is a crucial part of an anxiety management plan. By recognizing and avoiding these triggers, patients can decrease the likelihood of AF episodes. Stress Management: Stress management techniques such as regular exercise, deep breathing, and relaxation can help reduce stress levels and minimize anxiety. Distraction Techniques: Reading a book, listening to music, or viewing a movie can help reduce anxiety.

When to Seek Professional Help

If anxiety persists despite lifestyle changes and coping strategies, it may be necessary to seek professional assistance. A mental health professional can offer additional support and direction through counseling and medication if necessary.


Many people wonder whether anxiety can cause atrial fibrillation. While anxiety may not directly cause AF, it can contribute to the development or worsening of the condition.

What role does stress play in AF?

Stress and anxiety can trigger AF episodes by releasing hormones that affect the heart’s electrical system. When the heart’s rhythm is disrupted, it can lead to irregular heartbeats, palpitations, and other AF symptoms.

Can relaxation techniques help manage anxiety in AF patients?

Yes, relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga can help manage anxiety in AF patients. These techniques can reduce stress and promote a sense of calmness and well-being.

What lifestyle changes can alleviate anxiety in AF patients?

AF patients can benefit from making lifestyle changes that promote emotional well-being, such as regular exercise, eating a balanced diet (Or what naturally works best for your body), and sleeping regularly so your body is relaxed. Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake may also help manage anxiety.

Are there any medications that can help with anxiety in AF patients?

While there are no specific medications for anxiety-induced AF, some anti-anxiety and antidepressant medicines may help manage anxiety symptoms contributing to AF episodes. It’s essential to consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication. You can also check out our natural anxiety solutions section.

Can talking to a therapist help with anxiety in AF patients?

Talking to a therapist or counselor can help AF patients manage anxiety and other emotional issues contributing to AF episodes. Therapy can provide coping strategies and support networks to help patients better deal with anxiety and stress.

Is it possible to cure AF by managing anxiety?

While anxiety management can help reduce the frequency and severity of AF episodes, it may not cure the condition entirely. AF is a complex condition that requires medical attention and treatment in addition to anxiety management.

Should AF patients avoid all stressful situations?

Avoiding all stressful situations is not practical or necessary for AF patients. Instead, they should focus on managing their response to stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques, lifestyle modifications, and seeking support. It’s also essential to consult a healthcare professional before engaging in stressful activities that may worsen AF symptoms.

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