Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition in which the heart beats irregularly and rapidly. AF is usually not life threatening, but it can lead to blood clots in the heart and increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, and other complications. Stress is a known contributor to AF risk, and new review study published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology has suggested potential mechanisms behind the association. Additionally, the study explored the treatment and management of AF using stress reduction techniques.
In the review, the researchers noted that stress and AF seem to have a bidirectional relationship, although this relationship is not well understood. Stress impacts the nervous system, which is known to effect AF. At the same time, AF can lead to anxiety, distress, and even suicidal ideation. This relationship suggests that stress management may be a key to managing AF.
The review also suggested that the relationship between stress and AF is likely due in part to the impact that stress can have on one’s lifestyle. Stress and negative emotions can lead to weight gain, increased rates of smoking, higher alcohol consumption, and less physical activity. These factors also make AF worse. By managing stress, patients may improve these modifiable risk factors and thus improve AF symptoms. Potential stress reduction methods that were explored included antidepressant therapies, mindfulness techniques, and yoga.
Stress is a known factor in many negative health outcomes: headaches, sleep problems, mood problems, and more. Notably, stress has increasingly been linked to heart issues like a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and heart failure. Current events have significantly increased stress levels for Americans, with younger people reporting the highest levels of stress. The APA has declared that America is facing a “national mental health crisis” with potential far-reaching social and health-related consequences. Given this information, stress-reduction techniques are more important than ever for improving health and well-being.