Caffeine, tobacco or alcohol in excess can cause atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation

This is a term which is used to describe an irregular and often rapid heart rate which can increase the risk of heart failure, stroke and other heart – related complications. During this condition, the heart has 2 upper chambers (the atria) that beat chaotically and irregularly – they are out of the coordination with the 2 lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart. The symptoms of atrial fibrillation often include weakness, shortness of breath and heart palpitations [1]. The episodes of atrial fibrillation can come and go. Also some people can develop atrial fibrillation which does not go away and it can need treatment. This condition itself is not a life – threatening condition but it is a serious medical condition which in some cases may need emergency treatment. Afib can lead to complications. This condition can lead to blood clots forming in the heart which can circulate to other organs and this can lead to blocked blood flow (ischemia) [2]. The treatment for this condition may need medications and other interventions which can try to alter the heart’s electrical systems.

Atrial fibrillation symptoms

There are some people who suffer from atrial fibrillation and they have no symptoms and they are unaware that they suffer from it until it is discovered during a physical examination. Here are some signs and symptoms which can experience people who suffer from atrial fibrillation [1]:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations – they are sensations of a uncomfortable, racing, irregular heartbeat or a flip – flopping in your chest

The atrial fibrillation can be:

  • Occasional: When afib is occasional, then it is called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. People who have this type of atrial fibrillation can have symptoms that come and go, last for a few minutes to hours and they stop on their own.
  • Persistent: When someone has this type of afib, then his or her heart rhythm does not go back to normal on its own. When you have this type of atrial fibrillation, then you will need treatment such as medications or electrical shock which can help to restore the heart rhythm.
  • Long – standing persistent: When someone is affected by this type of afib, then he or she has continuous form of atrial fibrillation and it lasts longer than 12 months.
  • Permanent: When someone has this type of afib, then his or her abnormal heart rhythm cannot be restored. He or she will have atrial fibrillation permanently and he or she will often require medications to control the heart rate.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation causes

Damage or abnormalities of the heart’s structure are the most common causes for afib. Here are some possible causes for atrial fibrillation:

  • Sleep apnea [3]
  • Stress due to pneumonia, surgery or other illnesses [4]
  • Viral infections [5]
  • Previous heart surgery [6]
  • Lung diseases [7]
  • Sick sinus syndrome – improper functioning of the heart’s natural pacemaker
  • Exposure to stimulants, such as medications, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol [8]
  • An overactive thyroid gland or other metabolic imbalance
  • Heart defects you are born with (congenital)
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Coronary artery disease [9]
  • Heart attacks [9]
  • High blood pressure [10]

But there are many cases when people who suffer from atrial fibrillation do not have any heart defects or damage and this condition called lone atrial fibrillation. In the lone atrial fibrillation the cause for it is often unclear and there are rare cases can have serious complications.

Risk factors: There are some factors which can increase your risk of getting atrial fibrillation such as

  • High blood pressure: If you have high blood pressure and if it is not well – controlled with lifestyle changes or medications, then it can increase your risk of afib. [10]
  • Heart disease: Every single person who has heart disease, such as a history of heart attack or heart surgery, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, congenital heart disease and heart valve problems, has an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. [9]
  • Age: As we are getting older, our risk of developing atrial fibrillation is increasing.


[1] Rienstra M, Lubitz SA, Mahida S, et al. Symptoms and functional status of patients with atrial fibrillation: State of the art and future research opportunities. Circulation. 2012;125(23):2933-43.

[2] Decker JJ, Norby FL, Rooney MR, et al. Metabolic syndrome and risk of ischemic stroke in atrial fibrillation: ARIC study. Stroke. 2019;50(11):3045-50.

[3] Marulanda-Londoño E, Chaturvedi S. The interplay between obstructive sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation. Frontiers in Neurology. 2017;8:668.

[4] Svensson T, Kitlinski M, Engstrom G, Melander O. Psychological stress and risk of incident atrial fibrillation in men and women with known atrial fibrillation genetic risk scores. Scientific Reports. 2017.

[5] Abdalla LF, Santos JHA, Barreto RTJ, et al. Atrial fibrillation in a patient with Zika virus infection. Virology Journal. 2018;15:23.

[6] Helgadottir S, Sigurdsson MI, Ingvarsdottir IL, et al. Atrial fibrillation following cardiac surgery: risk analysis and long-term survival. Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery. 2012.

[7] Buch P, Friberg J, Scharling P, et al. Reduced lung function and risk of atrial fibrillation in The Copenhagen City Heart Study. European Respiratory Journal. 2003;21:1012-6.

[8] Bodar V, Chen J, Gaziano JM, et al. Coffee consumption and risk of atrial fibrillation in the physicians’ health study. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8(15).

[9] Verdecchia P, Angeli F, Reboldi G. Hypertension and atrial fibrillation: Doubts and certainties from basic and clinical studies. Circulation Research. 2018;122(2):352–68.

[10] Violi F, Soliman EZ, Pignatelli P, Pastori D. Atrial fibrillation and myocardial infarction: A systematic review and appraisal of pathophysiologic mechanisms. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2016;5(5).


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