You’re in the middle of an afib attack. You have palpitations, rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and extreme anxiety. I’ve been there. It’s no fun. Here are 8 things I’ve either done or others have done to help stop an atrial fibrillation episode. If you have something to add to the list, please share it in the comments!
1. Drink a glass of water.
Palpitations are sometimes caused by dehydration. Don’t drink any alcohol, coffee, tea, or soft drinks. Alcohol and caffeine can trigger atrial fibrillation, and the phosphorus in soft drinks can deplete magnesium (see below).
2. Eat a banana or drink low-sodium V8.
Atrial fibrillation can be caused by a lack of potassium, usually because of too much salt in the diet. Bananas are high in potassium (422mg in a medium banana) and low-sodium V8 has even more potassium (900mg in 8 oz). Tomato, prune, and orange juices all have decent amounts of potassium as well. But read the labels; some juices have high amounts of salt. Stay away from salt! See this list of high potassium foods.
If you have potassium supplements handy those can help too. The drawback to a lot of potassium supplements, however, is they have very little potassium – usually no more than 99mg per tablet or capsule – and they are often found in combination with calcium. I don’t recommend taking any calcium as it can excite the heart. Pure potassium gluconate powder is the best type of supplement to take. I always take NOW potassium gluconate powder.
3. Eat some pumpkin seeds.
Magnesium is essential for a normal heartbeat. Try eating some pumpkin seeds, which are high in magnesium. If you don’t have any pumpkin seeds, try brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, or any of the foods on this list.
If you have a magnesium supplement, you can take that, but only if it doesn’t include calcium. I personally take ReMag as I can take large doses of it during an episode without any laxative effect. Another supplement that can be highly effective is Ease magnesium spray.
4. Dunk your head in cold water.
Fill a sink with cold water and plunge your face in it. Sometimes this little jolt can help. Others have said a cold shower has a similar effect.
5. Lie down or exercise.
Some people find that their symptoms improve if they lie down and try to relax. Others find that doing a little exercise, which makes the heart beat faster and then slow down, helps even more. You’ll just have to experiment to find out if either of these suggestions work for you.
6. Try belly breathing.
Lie down or sit comfortably, and relax. Breath through your nose to a count of four, slowly filling your belly. Exhale through the nose or mouth for the same four count. Breathe deep into your belly, not your chest. Make the inhalations as long as the exhalations and breathe in a circle, i.e., don’t hold your breath on the inhale or exhale. You can also try breathing into the belly and holding the breath for a count of ten (stopping if you feel uncomfortable), then resume breathing rhythmically to a count of four.
7. Listen to a normal heart.
Listening to a normal heartbeat can help slow down your heart. This phenomenon is known as entrainment. Your heart may slow down to match the slower, normal heartbeat that you’re listening to. Try it:
8. Try the valsalva maneuver.
This is a safe and often times an effective method in slowing or stopping an atrial fibrillation episode. This maneuver greatly increases pressures inside the chest cavity which stimulates the vagus nerve and increases vagal tone. The vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves and extends from the brain stem to the abdomen, via various organs including the heart, esophagus and lungs. Here is a video that demonstrates the maneuver:
If your symptoms continue or worsen, go back to the top of this post. It may be time to call 911.