Atrial Fibrillation and Air Pollution Triggers

By: Alere Staff
Publication Date: Tue, 04/01/2014

Listening to the weather forecast has taken on a new meaning for people who suffer from or have an increased tendency to experience atrial fibrillation events.

Atrial fibrillation or Afib is the most commonly experienced irregular heart rhythm and can come on, sometimes, very suddenly. Some who experience Afib may have no symptoms as the upper chambers of their heart are erratically contracting at a very fast rate, while others may feel an event like palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, or weakness.1

Over the past few years, there have been studies evaluating possible causes that may “trigger” these irregular heart rhythms.2, 3 In these recent studies, patients who had a history of Afib were evaluated and the findings showed that exposure to small amounts of smog or air pollution can trigger an “event” or an episode of Afib.1

The air pollution triggers can be from auto emissions and include small particle matter such as black carbon, sulfate, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone.2, 3 Exposure to any of these particles increases the possibility of an “event” occurring in as little as 2 hours after the exposure.2, 3

As we move into the spring and summer months, it is important to heed the warnings regarding high emission or ozone days, and avoid exposure to this and any other possible “triggers”. Some other common triggers can be excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, cigarette smoking, stress, fatigue, and illness.3 Learning and understanding how to live “event-free” with your A-fib, what your possible triggers may be, and how to avoid them, can help you have an enjoyable, safe, and un-“eventful” summer.

  1. American Heart Association. What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)? Updated August 9, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2014.
  2. Nyberg, K. Air Pollution: Acute Trigger of Atrial Fibrillation. Accessed March 14, 2014.
  3. Link MS, Luttmann-Gibson H, Schwartz J, et al. Acute Exposure to Air Pollution Triggers Atrial Fibrillation. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;62(9):816-825.