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Caffeine Not a ‘Trigger’ for Atrial Fibrillation

Coffee drinkers are not at any greater risk for Afib

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Recent research shows that atrial fibrillation (Afib) is not more common in people who drink a few cups of coffee a day compared to those who avoid caffeine entirely. Coffee drinkers concerned about their heart health will be happy to learn more about the research findings.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed more than 30,000 women without heart disease or other major health problems. It reported that an increased level of caffeine consumption is not associated with an increased risk of Afib. Researchers tracked the women’s caffeine intake from coffee, tea, cola and chocolate and found essentially no difference in Afib risk between those who consumed the most and those who had the least.

Atrial fibrillation is a condition that causes the top two chambers of the heart (the atria) to essentially short-circuit as a result of rapid disorganized electrical firing. When functioning normally, the atria serve as the “fuel injectors” for the heart. They squeeze and push the blood into the main pumping chambers (the ventricles) to prime them with blood so that this blood can then be ejected and sent circulating through the body. When fibrillation develops in the atrium, these chambers lose the ability to squeeze and push the blood into the ventricles.

There is no one cause of Afib, but many including, heart disease, poorly controlled high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, previous heart attacks and congenital heart disease. Cleveland Clinic scientist David Van Wagoner, PhD (Molecular Cardiology) states, “Long term studies in large groups of patients have associated coffee consumption with a lower risk of diabetes. In contrast, consumption of sugary drinks or snacks is associated with an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.”

Many patients identify specific triggers that are associated with the onset of their atrial fibrillation events. In light of these studies, avoiding coffee isn’t necessary, which is good news for patients who simply can’t function without their morning cup of Joe. However, it is a good idea to limit the added sugar in that cup of coffee and any accompanying snacks.

References
Conen, S. E. Chiuve, B. M. Everett, S. M. Zhang, J. E. Buring, and C. M. Albert. Caffeine consumption and incident atrial fibrillation in women. Am J Clin Nutr 92 (3):509-514, 2010.PMID:20573799

E. Salazar-Martinez, W. C. Willett, A. Ascherio, J. E. Manson, M. F. Leitzmann, M. J. Stampfer, and F. B. Hu. Coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann.Intern Med 140 (1):1-8, 2004.PMID:14706966

[Note:  Dr. Van Wagoner adds, “One other point – drinking either hot or cold beverages can cause vagal stimulation, and this has been associated with triggering AF.  It has nothing to do with caffeine, but can nonetheless be a trigger.”]

Tags: abnormal heart beat, atrial fibrillation, caffeine and heart health, coffee and heart health, heart, heart and vascular institute, news
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  • Steve E

    Although I have had an ablation procedure and haven’t had an a-fib incident for approx. 1 year I am still leary of caffeine. It makes me jittery and gives me that racing heart feeling.

    • CC Heart

      Steve – I have spoke to many people who have certain food “triggers” for palpitations or feeling their heart is racing, including caffeine. Definitely avoid it if it makes you feel jittery. The study just showed that we do not have to tell all people with atrial fibrillation to avoid caffeine. So glad your ablation was successful! betsyRN

  • Jason Jamnik

    Within 45 minutes of drinking a 12 oz soda with caffeine, I experience afib on a 12 lead monitor. I have tried diet, real sugar, and high fructose corn syrup drinks. I also drank a cup of black coffee just to make sure artificial sweeteners weren’t the culprit. The effects come and go sporadically throughout the next 3-4 days and each drink was tested a week apart with no caffeine consumption in between. I do not believe that a person can psychologically make their heart go into afib. In some people, I believe caffeine does in fact cause the heart to go in and out of afib no matter what medical studies show.

  • The Scrounger

    This may be the case among the general population but it WITHOUT A DOUBT causes me afib when I drink caffeine. It used to happen when I was a teenager. I had been caffeine free for more than 10 years, long enough to forget the effect when I started drinking caffeinated tea last summer. Within a few days I began experiencing several episodes of afib PER DAY. When I stopped all caffeine, the problem cleared up within two weeks. Now I haven’t had an episode in nine months since then. No way this is a coincidence.