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Atrial Fibrillation as Symptom of Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Atrial Fibrillation as Symptom of Anxiety

Anxiety can cause symptoms that lead to more anxiety. This is one of the main reasons that anxiety and panic attacks are so hard to stop – once you have anxiety, it can often lead to symptoms that cause anxiety to develop further.

For those with severe anxiety and anxiety attacks, easily one of the most troubling symptoms is an irregular heartbeat, and one of the most common issues that leads to irregular heartbeat is atrial fibrillation.

Cause of Skipped Heartbeats From Anxiety

Atrial fibrillation, or "AF," is the most common cause of irregular heartbeats. Any type of irregular heartbeat can lead to rapid heartbeat and associated symptoms, such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and feelings of feint.

These are the same symptoms caused by anxiety, because anxiety can also contribute to an irregular heartbeat.

Fears From AF

While atrial fibrillation can be linked to unsafe conditions, like heart disease, it can also be caused by nothing at all. There is research now that shows that many people seem to suffer from severe irregular heartbeat as a response to anxiety.

Why this occurs isn't entirely clear, but most likely the cause has to do with:

  • Irregular Impulses Heartbeat irregularities are related to impulses that cause the nerves to send incorrect messages to the heart. Anxiety causes hormone shifts, neurotransmitter shifts, and nerve firings. It's likely that some combination of these sends incorrect messages to your heart to skip heartbeats, speed up, etc., all resulting in AF symptoms.
  • Mind/Body Control There is some evidence that health monitoring behaviors seem to increase the likelihood of irregular heartbeat as well. Anxiety and panic attacks tend to cause people to monitor their heartbeat, so it's possible that this monitoring is causing the brain to send messages to the heart which leads to AF.
  • Adrenaline While this leads back to the irregular impulses idea, it deserves its own mention. Anxiety releases considerable amounts of adrenaline, and adrenaline causes the nerves in the body to fire as it prepares for fight or flight mode. It's possible that adrenaline alone may be responsible for some anxiety AF symptoms.

The most important thing to do is talk to your doctor first. They can tell you very easily if something is wrong with your heart.

But be prepared to have anxiety anyway. Living with sudden rapid heartbeat is very frightening, and anxiety also tends to cause "feelings of doom" as a symptom, which will cause you to misinterpret your anxiety symptoms as a sign that something terrible is about to happen. Even if your doctor tells you that your heart is fine, during a panic attack you're going to believe they were wrong.

That's why it's so important to make sure that you don't allow yourself to be controlled by these types of symptoms. Consider the following:

  • Mental Distractions If you find you're focusing too much on your heart, do something to distract your thoughts. Calling someone you care about is a great choice. Talking to someone on the phone makes it very difficult to be distracted, and this will help take your mind off of your heart, which should reduce the likelihood of these symptoms.
  • Walking Many people find that simply walking around seems to help them with their irregular heartbeat fears. It's not clear why, but perhaps it's because the act of walking stimulates blood flow in a way that calms your heart down and uses up some of the excess adrenaline.

You also need to start working on curing your anxiety, because as long as you still have anxiety you're still likely to both suffer from these symptoms and increase the chance of experiencing a panic attack.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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