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Anxiety and AFib

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Can Atrial Fibrillation Be Caused By Anxiety?

Symptoms of anxiety and AFib can sometimes feel similar. Chances are, most people have experienced an episode of anxiety during their lifetime.

Anxiety is a neurological response caused by chronic exposure to sources of stress. Connected to our fight or flight response, anxiety triggers our sympathetic nervous system, which is designed to cause fear, helping us know when it is time to escape potential danger.

But, while our stress response is a healthy and natural response to our ever-changing environment, chronic anxiety can have many detrimental effects on a person’s mental and physical health — and sometimes, these physical symptoms can mimic those of other serious conditions.

To this point, anxiety and atrial fibrillation symptoms can be very similar, meaning they can misidentified by patients and their families. From a racing heart rate to a sudden onset of chest pain, it is possible to mistake one condition for the other — even though they are vastly different medical concerns.

Looking to shed some light on the differences between anxiety and atrial fibrillation, this article discusses the symptoms and identifying factors of anxiety, panic attacks, and atrial fibrillation. Additionally, I also share recent research findings about the connection between each condition, while exploring if chronically uncontrolled anxiety is a risk factor for developing AFib.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

As the most common type of heart arrhythmia diagnosed worldwide, atrial fibrillation is characterized by a rapid and irregular heart rate. Caused by malfunctioning of the electrical signals in the heart, untreated atrial fibrillation can lead to significant health risks like high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

While every person experiences AFib in a different way, some of the most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:

  • Racing heart rate

  • Heart palpitations

  • Pain and tightness in the chest

  • Sweating

  • Shortness of breath

  • Having difficulty sleeping

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Heart flutters or skipping heartbeats

  • Feeling anxious or overwhelmed

Symptoms of Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Alternatively, anxiety is an emotional response associated with stress. For some, anxiety can be felt as tension or feelings of worry, often accompanied by some physical symptoms like high blood pressure and Elevated heart rate.

Examples of common anxiety symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless or on edge

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Fatigue and increased irritability

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Having difficulty controlling your thoughts

  • Headaches, muscle aches, and generalized body pain

In severe cases, feelings of anxiety can develop into a panic attack, which is defined as a sudden episode of intense fear and worry. Often accompanied by a significant physical reaction, examples of panic attack symptoms include:

  • Feeling like your heart is pounding out of your chest

  • Heavy sweating

  • A sudden impending feeling of doom

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain and tightness

  • Dizziness, numbness, and lightheadedness

  • Tremors and shaking

How to Know the Difference Between Anxiety and AFib:

So, as we can see, there is significant overlap between symptoms of anxiety and atrial fibrillation — but how can you tell them apart?

During the initial onset of symptoms, it can be hard to know exactly what is happening. But, in most cases, knowing the key differences between each condition can help identify which condition you are experiencing:

  • How symptoms present — In most cases, AFib symptoms appear suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, while anxiety and panic attack symptoms often start mild and grow into more severe episodes over time.

  • Emotional factors — During a panic attack, symptoms often emerge from emotional distress and out-of-control thoughts. Alternatively, atrial fibrillation symptoms are directly linked to physical cardiac function.

  • Heart rate — While it is common for your heart rate to increase during an AFib and anxiety attack, the rhythm of your heart rate can be a telling sign. During a panic attack, your heart rate should remain regular and consistent, while an episode of AFib may cause your heart rate to beat in an irregular or erratic pattern.

But, despite knowing the above information, if you experience any of the above symptoms, seeking medical care from your primary care provider of cardiologist is always advised. During this appointment, depending on your medical history and severity of symptoms, your doctor may order any of the following cardiac diagnostic tests to rule out anxiety as the cause of your symptoms:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) — During an ECG, the lab technician will attach a series of stickers and wires to your chest to record the electrical activity of your chest. The ECG can detect changes to your heart rate, including if it is irregular or elevated. ECGs are painless and are a standard cardiac diagnostic procedure.

  • Heart monitoring — For those who experience on and off symptoms, a portable heart monitor can be a helpful diagnostic tool. Worn on the body during the day and overnight, heart monitoring can give your doctor an in-depth look at your cardiac activity over a set period of time.

  • Stress testing — In some cases, a person may only develop symptoms of AFib during exercise. To test for this, your doctor may order a cardiac stress test, where you will run on a treadmill while connected to a heart monitor under close surveillance of a healthcare provider.

  • At Home Monitors (KardiaMobile or Apple Watch). People who have rare or intermittent symptoms may also benefit from at home monitoring devices to assess for symptoms of atrial fibrillation. There are many consumer products that do not require any prescription which can be very helpful to differentiate between an anxiety attack or atrial fibrillation. Products I recommend to my patient include a KardiaMobile device or an Apple Watch. Having a ECG picture through one of the at home devices during a symptom episode can provide valuable information for patients and doctors.

Anxiety and AFib: Can Anxiety Cause Atrial Fibrillation?

As a commonly researched topic, it is well known that medical comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart failure, and heart valve diseases increase your risk of being diagnosed with AFib during your lifetime.

Interestingly, even though many people living with AFib experience anxiety, there is some proof that living with anxiety can cause you to develop atrial fibrillation. In a study conducted in 2019, a summary of studies showed that chronic anxiety can interfere with our hormonal, neurological, microcirculatory, and immunological systems — but despite this, no definitive physiological connection was found between anxiety and AFib.

In another study published in 2016, it was found that profound stress, anger, and negative emotions were associated with more severe cardiac arrhythmia symptoms. While the exact physiological connection between stress and arrhythmias is still unknown, this research has shown that it is possible that our emotions (and possibly anxiety) could play a role in the severity of an already existing cardiac condition.

So, while we do not currently have a definitive answer for the potential connection between anxiety and atrial fibrillation, that doesn’t mean that effectively managing each condition separately will not result in a positive impact on all aspects of your health.

Treating AFib Can Help With Anxiety Symptoms

As it turns out, treatments designed to manage atrial fibrillation have been proven to reduce the severity of anxiety symptoms in patients living with both conditions.

In a study conducted in 2018, a cohort of AFib patients living with anxiety or depression were assessed after undergoing treatment for their atrial fibrillation. Of the group, 78 people underwent an AFib ablation procedure, while 58 others took medications prescribed to control AFib symptoms.  Before the study, 35% of participants reported experiencing severe anxiety and distress on a regular basis.

After the treatments were completed, it was found that the group who underwent ablation procedures experienced a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms when compared to the group who only took medications.

So, while this is only one study, it is clear that managing symptoms for one condition can have net positive impacts on other conditions — both of which can result in a better quality of life overall.

Reverse Atrial Fibrillation Naturally

If you are interested in natural treatment options for atrial fibrillation and are highly motivated in improving your symptoms naturally, to reduce your need for medications or even procedures, then take a look at my one-of-a-kind, online educational program, Take Control Over AFib.

Lifestyle modifications and reducing inflammation are essential components of the long-term management of atrial fibrillation. Addressing the source cause of atrial fibrillation can lead to a significant benefit for most AFib patients. Targeted lifestyle modifications can reduce your symptoms, reduce your reliance on medications or procedures, and even improve the long-term success rate of a catheter ablation procedure for AFib. However, most patients are not given instructions or tips on how to accomplish these essential lifestyle modifications in an AFib targeted style.

This is exactly why I created the Take Control Over AFib Program, to give people a step-by-step plan to improve and potentially reverse atrial fibrillation naturally.

Thinking about lifestyle modifications is easy, but putting in place a system to keep you committed to achieve real results takes time and dedication, and with my step-by-step plan, we can achieve powerful and long-lasting results together.

Learn More About The Take Control Over AFib Program Here

Putting It All Together

Anxiety and atrial fibrillation have a lot of similar presenting symptoms — despite the fact that they are vastly different medical concerns.

If you or someone you love has been experiencing symptoms of AFib or anxiety that you cannot identify, seeking medical attention for diagnostic testing as soon as possible can help to lead to a correct diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

Additionally, while we do not currently know the specific connection between anxiety and AFib, it is important to note that adequately managing each condition with the support of your medical team can help to improve your overall health and quality of life.



See All My Top Recommended AFib Products on Amazon in One Place. Click Here.

Atrial Fibrillation from A to Z. Everything you need to know about AFib in a single video.

Can AFib be Reversed with Diet? Find Out More in this Video.

Learn more about the Take Control Over AFib Program here. 

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