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Is Low Vitamin D a Risk for Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is surprisingly common. Popular drugs can pose a risk for atrial fibrillation. Low vitamin D levels may also be a factor.
Is Low Vitamin D a Risk for Atrial Fibrillation?
Emergency Cardiology. ECG with supraventricular arrhythmias and short paroxysm of atrial fibrillation

Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) are cause for concern. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) can lead to fatigue, dizzy spells, shortness of breath and a heart flopping feeling. If uncontrolled, AFib can lead to stroke. Some drugs increase the risk for AFib. Are low vitamin D levels also a risk for atrial fibrillation?

How Would You Know if You Have AFib?

There are now devices such as smart watches or portable heart monitors that can help diagnose this arrhythmia. They’re not perfect, though. An electrocardiogram is a more accurate reflection of heart rhythms.

Anyone with persistent symptoms should be evaluated by a physician. If an Apple Watch detects AFib, a doctor should be consulted.

What Triggers AFib?

A number of medications can increase the risk for atrial fibrillation. Millions of people take corticosteroids (cortisone-type drugs like prednisone) to control inflammation. Tens of millions more take NSAIDs like celecoxib, diclofenac, ibuprofen, meloxicam and naproxen to ease pain. These kinds of medications can put people at greater risk for atrial fibrillation.

PPIs for heartburn may deplete the body of minerals such as magnesium. That too ups the risk for atrial fibrillation. You can read more about pharmaceuticals that could pose problems for this irregular heart rhythm at this link

Is Your Medicine Triggering Scary Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a potentially life-threatening irregular heart rhythm. A surprising number of medications can trigger this arrhythmia.

Is Vitamin D Deficiency a Risk for Atrial Fibrillation?

Q. I was diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation years ago and have taken propafenone SR every day since. If the A-Fib pops up from time to time despite the propafenone SR, I take a lower-dose regular propafenone tablet. That usually works in about 30 minutes.

This past year I’ve needed these rescue tablets more frequently, from an average of two per week to almost five a week this fall. After the election, it dropped back down. So far this year, I’m averaging one a week.

I attribute last year’s spike to work stress and political turmoil. The January drop might be due in part to less work pressure now and the stabilized political situation.

One other factor may be playing a role in my reduced A-Fib episodes. On December 16, my new primary care physician put me on 2,000 IU vitamin D3 daily. Could vitamin D3 play a role in reducing periods of A-Fib?

A. You’ve suggested an intriguing possibility. Adequate vitamin D levels might indeed reduce the likelihood of atrial fibrillation.

One analysis of 13 studies concluded that vitamin D deficiency was associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (Nutrition Journal, Nov. 14, 2019).  A randomized controlled trial found that high-dose short-term vitamin D supplements helped prevent A-Fib after coronary bypass surgery (General Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, May, 2020). 

One of the reasons doctors worry about atrial fibrillation is that patients have an increased possibility of blood clotting when it is not moving properly through all the heart’s chambers. One study recruited 200 people with A-Fib taking anticoagulants to prevent clots (Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, June 25, 2020). Those with low levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D were more likely to develop a clot anyway. Such clots are especially dangerous because they can move into the brain and cause strokes.

This research adds weight to the importance of knowing your vitamin D level. To learn more about this crucial nutrient, you may want to read our eGuide to Vitamin D and Optimal Health. This electronic resource may be found in the Health eGuides section of this website.

Share Your Own AFib Story:

Let others know what it’s like to have atrial fibrillation in the comment section below. How have you controlled it? 

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
  • Liu X et al, "The relationship between vitamin D and risk of atrial fibrillation: a dose-response analysis of observational studies." Nutrition Journal, Nov. 14, 2019. DOI: 10.1186/s12937-019-0485-8
  • Kara H & Yasim A, "The relationship between vitamin D and risk of atrial fibrillation: a dose-response analysis of observational studies." General Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, May, 2020. DOI: 10.1186/s12937-019-0485-8
  • Çakir OM, "Low vitamin D levels predict left atrial thrombus in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation." Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, June 25, 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.numecd.2020.03.023
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