Bitter blend: Blair blames Continental coffee

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Tony Blair believes that he may have triggered his heart scare by drinking too much strong continental coffee at the European Union summit in Brussels last week.

Downing Street said Mr Blair started to feel unwell at 9.30am on Sunday, but it is understood that he felt "breathless" on Friday after returning to Chequers, his country retreat, from the two-day summit. He worked normally at Chequers on Saturday and felt fine when he hosted a monthly dinner there, but felt queasy on Sunday morning and a doctor was called.

A Blair aide told The Independent: "He is saying that he drank a lot of coffee at the summit. He obviously felt the need for it to keep him going. It is possible that he had too much strong, continental coffee. Perhaps he should have stuck to herbal tea."

Close colleagues say the Prime Minister drinks coffee and tea, though he would not normally drink coffee late at night.

Doctors have said that Mr Blair's irregular heartbeat condition, called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), can be triggered by stress, too much alcohol or too much caffeine. But Nicholas Peters, professor of cardiology at St Mary's Hospital and Imperial College in London, said drinking coffee may simply highlight the problem rather than cause it. He said: "Someone who does not normally drink coffee, then drinks a lot of it, may stimulate their heart in a way that causes this problem to be revealed. But it can come out of the blue as well."

SVT is a disturbance of the heart rhythm caused by rapid electrical activity in the atria, the upper part of the heart. It can cause shortness of breath and palpitations, but is considered a minor condition which causes no long-term damage.