Atrial fibrillation, also called AF or A-Fib, is one of the most common irregular heart rhythms. An abnormality of the electrical system of the heart, atrial fibrillation is a rapid beating of the upper chambers of the heart, which prevents the heart from pumping blood adequately to the lower chambers.

An atrial fibrillation patient’s heart does not receive the right electrical signals to tell it when to contract or relax. As a result, the upper chambers can’t beat in a normal pattern and the heart is unable to pump blood as well as it should.

Atrial fibrillation can cause weakness, shortness of breath and heart palpitations, which is when you feel like your heart has skipped a beat. It might also feel fluttery, racing or pounding. Having atrial fibrillation also raises the odds of stroke, kidney disease and heart failure.

For patients diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, one of the heathy recommendations, in addition to exercising, losing weight, and eating heart healthy, would be avoiding coffee and tea. This is because caffeine increases the heart rate, which could trigger an atrial fibrillation episode. Too much caffeine also raises blood pressure, which is bad for the heart.

Thanks to a recent study, the good news for former coffee-loving atrial fibrillation patients is a lack of evidence to support concerns about caffeine and abnormal heart rhythms. This study, published in the JACC: Clinical Electrophysiologymedical journal, looked at the effect of caffeinated beverages on the heart rhythm. The goal was to determine whether concerns about caffeine triggering abnormal heart rhythms was backed up by any reliable evidence.

The study researched the effect of any form of caffeine such as coffee, tea, energy drinks and even chocolate, and found no evidence to support the link between caffeine intake and an increased risk for abnormal heart rhythms.

However, even though caffeine is deemed “safe” for heart rhythms, it does still have an effect on blood pressure. Atrial fibrillation patients who choose to consume caffeine products should keep their daily intake to around 300 mg per day.

To understand how much caffeine is in a product, follow these examples: A can of soda has about 32 mg of caffeine, a cup of tea 35 to 55 mg, and a single cup of coffee or espresso has about 75 to 106 mg of caffeine.

Most individuals can safely have a few servings a day of these beverages. Energy drinks, however, can exceed 300 mg with one beverage ranging from 160 mg to 500 mg, so be sure to read the label before consumption. Please also note a cup of tea is not the same as a large glass of sweet tea that many South Carolinians prefer. Depending on the size glass, the tea number may need to be doubled or even tripled.

When it comes to chocolate, there are medical experts who have been touting the benefits of chocolate on the heart for years. The cocoa component of chocolate contains flavanols and antioxidants that help fight inflammation and disease. But the key word when it comes to chocolate and any dietary considerations is moderation, meaning one piece of chocolate per day with one serving defined as 30 grams, which is the equivalent of approximately 150 calories.

Consumed in reasonable amounts, chocolate might help protect against heart disease, heart attacks and atrial fibrillation.

The physicians of McLeod Cardiology Associates can help you manage atrial fibrillation or other heart-related conditions. Electrophysiologist Dr. Prabal Guha cares for patients at their offices located in Florence, Hartsville and Sumter. Appointments can be made by calling 843-667-1891.

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