Atrial fibrillation (AF) occurs when disrupted blood flow between the heart’s chambers causes anomalies in heartbeats. The condition is a precursor for serious health issues like blood clots and strokes, but few patients receive appropriate medical care for their symptoms. Understanding the triggers, however, can help prevent the onset of deadly episodes. Some studies suggest the ingestion of iced foods and drinks may precipitate sudden changes in heart rate.

The American College of Cardiology (ACC) cautions: “Cold beverages are […] a frequently reported dietary AF trigger.”

As an example, the health body cites the case of a 79-year-old father and his 42-year-old son who suffered a sudden episode after consuming the same meal.

The family members, who had no prior history of significant cardiac disease, separately developed new onset symptomatic AF after “rapidly ingesting a flavoured shared ice dessert,” explains the report.

It continues: “Both converted to sinus rhythm after treatment with anti-arrhythmic agents.”

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Elsewhere in the report, the case of a 29-year-old woman is described.

Similarly, the adult developed brain freeze after ingestive a slushy ice drink and subsequently required “electric cardioversion”, states the ACC.

The health body cautions that these “accumulating anecdotes of cold-induced AF have now led to the aptly named condition known as cold drink heart”.

The Baylor University Medical Centre Proceedings explained that a probable reason for the link is the proximity of the heart and oesophagus.


According to the journal, this may be why the ingestion of very cold drinks triggers paroxysmal AF and other types of arrhythmias.

“Patients should be notified as to the importance of avoiding such triggers,” advises the journal.

Because this link has received little research attention so far, its true prevalence remains poorly described.

Other dietary causes of atrial fibrillation

According to Medicine Net, consuming high-sugar foods and drinks can lead to obesity and high blood pressure, two known precursors for AF.

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“High blood pressure can trigger [AF] episodes. Artificial sweeteners can be just as bad or even worse than traditional sugar,” explains the health body.

Because other stimulants like caffeine and sodium are also known triggers, patients should be notified about the importance of avoiding triggers like energy drinks.

Medicine Net continues: “Alcohol has been a strong trigger for AF, and alcohol-induced AF is called holiday heart syndrome.

“It refers to significant AF episodes that usually happened around a holiday associated with binge drinking.

“However, for some people, even moderate drinking can lead to AF episodes. Strict reduction in alcohol consumption can reduce the triggers of AF.”

What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

Because AF symptoms are so vague, people often fail to make an association between their symptoms and heart conditions.

WebMD explains: “You may think you’re out of shape or just don’t feel like yourself. But you could have AF and not even know it.”

For those who do experience symptoms, AF may cause a fast, pounding heartbeat, shortness of breath or weakness.

The NHS advises you see a GP or call 111 if:

  • you have chest pain that comes and goes
  • you have chest pain that goes away quickly but you’re still worried
  • you notice a sudden change in your heartbeat
  • your heart rate is consistently lower than 60 or above 100 (particularly if you’re experiencing other symptoms of atrial fibrillation, such as dizziness and shortness of breath)

The health body states: “It’s important to get medical advice to make sure it’s nothing serious.”

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