Anxiety vs. Atrial Fibrillation: Know When to See a Doctor

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Symptoms like a racing heart, dizziness and shortness of breath can be scary — especially when you experience them all at once. While they could be your body’s reaction to a high level of anxiety, don’t dismiss these symptoms as nothing serious: They could also point to a more serious heart condition called atrial fibrillation.

Learning more about the similarities between anxiety and atrial fibrillation can help you understand when you should get help from your trusted doctor. Both conditions can be treated with success to help you live your best life.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, fear or worry. If you’re in a stressful situation, such as preparing for an important event, it’s normal to have some anxiety. In fact, it helps you be alert and cope with challenges.

But when symptoms interfere with your everyday activities or happen unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, it can be difficult to know whether they’re truly a result of your anxiety or a more serious health condition.

Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Rapid or pounding heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling

Anxiety disorders are very common, and they sometimes run in families. The most extreme form of anxiety is panic disorder, which can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack or even dying.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, is one of the most common types of irregular heartbeats. If you have A-fib, your heart beats much faster than normal. It also beats irregularly, which means your body doesn’t get enough blood.

Atrial fibrillation can happen for just a few hours or last up to a week or longer. For some people, atrial fibrillation lasts more than a year. It causes symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath, especially when lying down

If atrial fibrillation isn’t treated, it can lead to serious health problems such as stroke, heart failure or heart attack.

I Have Symptoms—What Should I Do?

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Whether anxiety or A-Fib is the cause, both conditions can be treated. More importantly, the consequences of A-fib are too severe to take chances with your health.

Your doctor may ask if you have any close relatives with an anxiety disorder or a heart arrhythmia. Both these conditions can sometimes run in families. You’ll also have a physical exam and you may have imaging or other tests that can diagnose A-fib.

You can help your doctor make the most accurate diagnosis by paying attention to how you feel during an episode. Keep track of these aspects of your symptoms:

  • How long they last
  • If they start and end suddenly
  • If your heart beats erratically
  • When they occur

Your age can also be a clue — A-fib is more likely as we get older, while anxiety attacks can begin in childhood.

Lowering Your Risks

Anxiety and atrial fibrillation have something else in common: You can lower your risks for both with similar steps. Follow these guidelines to help avoid these conditions and stay healthy overall:

  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t use illicit drugs
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Get regular exercise
  • Manage your stress

Trust Your Doctor

If you have symptoms that could point to anxiety or A-Fib, seek medical advice right away. A doctor can help you determine the cause of the symptoms, get you started with treatment and our cardiovascular specialists can help.

To learn more about A-fib or to make an appointment with one of our specialists please visit

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