I get more calls and letters from people asking about atrial fibrillation (AF) than just about anything else (except maybe cholesterol). Atrial fibrillation is the heart condition where the two upper chambers of the heart (the atria) experience irregular, rapid beating.

It's common for the condition to cause strokes (about 15% of stroke victims have atrial fibrillation). As a result, doctors almost always place atrial fibrillation sufferers on Coumadin (rat poison), with no plan to get them off.

Rarely do we see doctors search for the cause. They're usually happy just treating symptoms. And, with atrial fibrillation, there is a cause we can treat.

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I've previously told you how hypothyroidism can be very subtle - almost undetectable. And hypothyroidism can predispose you to atrial fibrillation. In fact, a prospective study on 3,233 Americans (age 65 and older) found that sub-clinical hypothyroidism can double your risk for atrial fibrillation.

Subclinical hypothyroidism means you have lower than optimal thyroid function, yet you don't consciously feel it. Sometimes even the lab can't pick it up.

In my experience, the most accurate way to detect a sluggish thyroid is with a basal body temperature test.  Here's what you do: Take an old-fashioned glass thermometer, shake it down, and put it on your night table before you go to bed.  Immediately upon waking,  before you get out of bed or move around, place the thermometer snugly in your armpit for 15 minutes.  If your temperature is below 97.8 degrees, you probably have a weak thyroid.  But to make sure, do the test for at least 3 consecutive days.

In addition, have your doctor test for TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Your levels should be less than 2.0. Be sure that your "free" T3 and T4 are checked, too, since the "free" forms are the active hormones.

I haven't seen data on whether correcting the thyroid deficiency can fix atrial fibrillation after the fact, but it sure seems worth a try. In the meantime, if you're over age 65, ask your integrative doctor to evaluate you for subclinical hypothyroidism the next time you have a visit. Your heart's conduction system will thank you for it.


Ref: Cappola, A.R., L.P. Fried, et al. "Thyroid status, cardiovascular risk, and mortality in older adults," JAMA, 2006; 295(9): 1033-41.

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