What Can Trigger Atrial Fibrillation?

Ask a Doctor

I was recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. I like to exercise and be active, and I also have a stressful job. What can I do to avoid afib triggers?

Doctor’s Response

Atrial fibrillation frequently occurs after cardiothoracic surgery or procedures, but often resolves in a few days.

For many people with infrequent and brief episodes of atrial fibrillation, the episodes are brought on by a number of triggers. Because some of these involve excessive alcohol intake or skipping medications, this is sometimes called "holiday heart "or "Saturday night heart." Some of these people are able to avoid episodes or have fewer episodes by avoiding their triggers. Common triggers include alcohol and caffeine in susceptible individuals.

Individuals that do not have atrial fibrillation can lower their chance of getting this arrhythmia by minimizing risk factors. This includes minimizing the risk factors for coronary heart disease and high blood pressure listed below.

  • Do not smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Make nutritious, low-fat or nonfat foods the basis of a lifestyle; some physicians suggest increasing a person's intake of fish oil, fiber, and vegetables.
  • Take part in moderately strenuous physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Control (reduce) high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Use alcohol in moderation (maximum of 1-2 drinks per day), if at all.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants as much as is possible.

If patients have atrial fibrillation, their health care professional may prescribe treatments for the underlying cause and to prevent future episodes of atrial fibrillation. These treatments might include any of the following (see Medical Treatment for more information):

  • Medications
  • Cardioversion
  • Pacemaker
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Maze surgery

For more information, read our full medical article on atrial fibrillation

Medically reviewed by Robert J. Bryg, MD., Board Certified Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Cardiovascular Disease REFERENCES:

"Atrial Fibrillation Fact Sheet." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Feb. 2010. <http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/docs/fs_atrial_fibrillation.pdf>.

"Heart Disease Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Heart Disease." MedicineNet. 30 Sept. 2009. <https://www.medicinenet.com/heart_disease_pictures_slideshow_visual_guide/article.htm>.

Gage, Brian F., et al. "Validation of clinical classification schemes for predicting stroke: results from the National Registry of Atrial Fibrillation." The Journal of the American Medical Association 285.22 (2001): 2864-2870.

Rosenthal, Lawrence, et al. "Atrial Fibrillation." Medscape. 30 Jan. 2012. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/151066-overview#a0104>.

Rosenthal, Lawrence, et al. "Atrial Fibrillation Medication." Medscape. 15 Mar. 2012. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/151066-medication>.

UpToDate. Patient information: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics).