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Having abnormal heartbeat. Does anxiety cause atrial fibrillation?

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General & Family Physician
Practicing since : 2001
Answered : 14997 Questions
Hi there,
I have had crazy anxiety issues for a long time. I have seeked help and actually have been getting better. The last Thursday I woke up at 3am on the dot and was having a very strange heartbeat. I went to the ER and they put me on heart medicine thru an IVEY because they said that I went into AFIB. My question is for you to educate and help me find out if it is possible that I went into AFIB because of my anxiety.... is this possible? I have tests to come this week like an echo test and another holter monitor.. i will attach some documents so you can analyze what happened that night. Also, I am noticing when I am falling asleep that I feel kind of claustrophobic and dizzy and am wondering if this is normal... please help me.. I am getting crazy anxiety because of the afib and I wonder if you think it is all related..The holter monitor is from a couple months ago before the afib ever happened. I exercise and I do not do drugs OR drink any kind of caffeine.
Thanks alot
Posted Sun, 4 Nov 2012 in Hypertension and Heart Disease
Answered by Dr. Michelle Gibson James 3 hours later
Hi, thanks for using health care magic

Anxiety can cause palpitations but they cause a different type of abnormal heart rhythm called sinus tachycardia which means an increase in heart rate however with a regular rhythm, it does not cause a fib.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular irregular heart beat.

The American heart association classifies a fib into three categories:
(1) paroxysmal- episodes of A fib that stop within 7 days (most will stop within 24 hrs).Itt is possible to progress to permanent A fib.
(2)persistant A fib- episodes that last more than 7 days and require medication or electrical intervention
(3)permanent A fib-persists for more than 1 yr

The risk factor that are most commonly associated with a fib are:
(1)hemodynamic stress ( this refers to conditions such as hypertension, problems with the some of the valves in the heart, if the left side of the heart is not working properly)
(2)atrial ischemia- reduced blood supply to a part of the heart
(3)inflammation of the heart
(4)certain conditions of the lung can also cause a fib such as pulmonary embolism,pneumonia,lung cancer, low body temp
(5)alcohol and drug use
(6)endocrine conditions such as hyperactive thyroid, diabetes,
(7)family history of atrial fibrillation
(8) neurological disease such as a brain bleed or stroke
(9) advancing age- this would not apply to you

The dizziness may be related to the atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart beat would affect blood supply to the brain and lung which may result in episodes of dizziness), it is also may be a side effect of some of the medication that you have been put on as a result of the a fib
Claustrophobia is one of the anxiety syndrome and is more likely part and parcel of your anxiety syndrome which has been exacerbated by worrying/wondering about the a fib.

I hope this helps, feel free to ask any other questions
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Having abnormal heartbeat. Does anxiety cause atrial fibrillation? 34 minutes later
Oh I see... Do you think I am at risk for the stroke? and would a echo gram tell me what is going on? would you suggest that I ask to be tested for other tests? and if so could you let me know what you think would be more beneficial? If i just did a holter in XXXXXXX what are the chances that I would have a heart problem in october?

Answered by Dr. Michelle Gibson James 2 hours later

A fib does increase your risk for cardiovascular complications and if it reoccurs or persists then , unfortunately, your risk would be higher than someone who does not have a fib.
In some cases of paroxysmal a fib, particularly at a young age like yours, the focal point causing the a fib can be identified and eliminated.

The echo would check the valves of the heart,check the size of the different chambers of the heart and assess heart function, so it would definately provide additional useful information.It is usually recommended.

The additional tests are the holter that you are scheduled to have and lab tests which you have already had in the ER (the only other blood test that may need to be done is a thyroid function test).

Feel free to ask any other questions
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Having abnormal heartbeat. Does anxiety cause atrial fibrillation? 27 minutes later
I greatly appreciate your reply. It has not been easy for me throughout the anxiety and to find out why this is happening to me. The ER actually did test my Thyroid the 1st night I was there, and I have been checked for it multiple times in the last year because of my anxiety.. Are all the tests that have been done for my blood work the ones suggested I just don't want to miss anything and have my anxiety control everything in between.... so I am assuming that A fib is actually a condition I have, regardless of how many times. Is there any cure for it.
Answered by Dr. Michelle Gibson James 19 hours later
Hi,sorry about the delay

If you had the TFT done then all the tests that are normally recommmended have been done.
The doctors will have to determine if there is any specific treatable cause for you A fibrillation- if found and treated then it may possibly resolve.
In some persons , the A fib persists, the holter and ECHO will give more information

I hope this helps, feel free to ask any other questions
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Having abnormal heartbeat. Does anxiety cause atrial fibrillation? 5 days later
Hi doc,
so I got my Echo tests bk and they say that I do not have anything wrong with my heart and that all my tests look perfect..

do you think i got a fib because i gained over 40 lbs this year?

also after you read my cholesterol do you think this is why i got it?

even the holter monitor came back clean...

please help me im kind of going crazy as being so confused and not understanding what is happening to my body.. it hasnt happened since then. Also I am wondering is it possible for it to only happen once... and i know you said it couldnt be anxiety, is there anyway it could have been...
please look at my tests and give me a proper response no doctors are helping me in canada i feel helpless. I want to go out this weekend and drink, but I do not even know if this will happen again.. please advise me on the severeness of my cholesterol too......
Answered by Dr. Michelle Gibson James 10 hours later
HI, the weight gain would increase your risk for high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and a host of other complications but it is not a known cause of atrial fibrillation.Abnormal cholesterol also does not directly cause a fib.
As stated earlier, anxiety can cause increase in the heart rate but the rhymth would be different than that seen in atrial fibrillation.
Your doctor will tell you what type of a fib (paroxymal, persisitant, or permanent) they think that you had and the most likely cause, even with the results, I would not be able to do that at this distance because I would not be able to examine you to pinpoint the likely cause.
Alcohol can precipitate a fib, so I would advise you not to use any alcohol so soon after having a history of a fib.
It may be a single episode , it would not be possible to predict if your are likely to repeat it. Since all the test came back normal, hopefully the a fib would not reoccur.

I hope everything works out for you
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Having abnormal heartbeat. Does anxiety cause atrial fibrillation? 9 minutes later
Alright she said lone a fib. I don't have a dr this was a dr at emergency..... In the after care clinic.
But what are the chances they missed something in the test?

Like if my test come back normal do you think it is okay? Like I sent you everytest and the echo and holter were clear.

You know is there anything you suggest I do? Should I stay away from excersise and again, how is my cholesteral reading. The dr here just said its high but am low risk and have not to worry. If all the tests are good what are chances they're wrong?
Answered by Dr. Michelle Gibson James 1 hour later
Hi, the above results include your blood chemistry,full blood count and liver assessment but there is no cholesterol attached.
With the normal results on the holter and the echo it increases the chances of everything being ok but it would be impossible for me to guarantee that you will never ever experience another episode.I wish I could do that to make you feel better, but it is not possible for a doctor to give a 100% guarantee about anything, we can only say that the chances are slim which is what I am telling, the normal results indicate that your chances are slim for a repeat.
I think with the normal results , you can slowly restart exercise but it would be best to speak to your cardiologist to find a suitable exercise regimen.

I really hope it works out for you
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
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