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Can food or drinks cause arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation?

Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner

Alcohol, caffeine and over-the-counter sinus or cold medications can all lead to arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, such as in atrial fibrillation. For some people, half a cup of coffee can trigger the irregular, fast heart rates of atrial fibrillation. Drinking too much alcohol at one time may trigger arrhythmias in some people who are sensitive to alcohol. Taking decongestants for sinus problems can also result in a rapid and/or irregular heartbeat.

Stopping the alcohol, caffeine and sinus or cold medicines should allow the heartbeat to go back to its normal rhythm. If you still notice that your heartbeat is rapid and/or irregular, call your doctor and get it checked out. Working with your doctor, you can find the best medications and treatments to help resolve your situation.

Just like your plumbing system and the muscle in your heart, diet can affect your electrical system. Anything that's a stimulant or increases the stress on your heart will increase your adrenaline and increase your heart rate. Things like caffeine and tea—which has theophylline methylxanthines in it—or even things like herbal supplements can increase your adrenaline and cause your heart rate to increase. Other things like Five-Hour Energy, Red Bull, and Monster drinks, all have a lot of taurine and caffeine in them that can increase the stimulant effect on your heart, which can definitely increase your risk of arrhythmias.

Have you ever downed a Starbucks venti latte, double-shot espresso, or a five-hour energy type drink and suddenly felt your heart pounding on your chest like Mark Wahlberg’s in The Fighter? That’s because a big dose of caffeine can cause a bout of atrial fibrillation (AF). Excessive alcohol can also cause AF (that means more than one drink for the ladies, and two for the gents per day). And remember those five food felons I talk about so often? They can also lead to AF.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.