Risk Factors for Arrhythmia

Every heartbeat is controlled by a series of electrical impulses that tell each part of the heart when to contract. There is normal variation in this system in response to movement, sleep, and stress, but sometimes the electrical impulses fire out of sync. When that happens, it leads to an abnormal rhythm or arrhythmia where heartbeats are irregular, too fast, or too slow. 

Not all arrhythmias cause symptoms, and some are identified during routine exams. Patients who do have symptoms often describe the sensation as a fluttering heartbeat. Arrhythmias range in severity, from mild versions that simply need to be monitored to serious ones that raise the risk for life-threatening conditions such as heart attack or stroke. For serious arrhythmias, doctors may attempt to control the abnormal heart rhythm with medication or perform a procedure to stop it. 

Who is at risk?

There are many different risk factors for abnormal heart rhythms. One of the largest is other heart disease, including coronary artery disease. The risk of arrhythmia increases with age, and other health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and electrolyte imbalances may contribute to an arrhythmia as well. Lifestyle factors include stress, alcohol use, caffeine, and some common OTC medicines, including cold medicines. 

How can I reduce risk?

Although some risk factors cannot be changed, lifestyle choices can have a large impact on heart health. Because heart damage and heart conditions can lead to atrial fibrillation and other forms of abnormal heart rhythm, making choices for overall heart health can help reduce your risk.

Some of the best ways to reduce risk include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet. The food you choose to put in your body can make it harder for your heart to work, or it can support your heart. Aim for a balanced diet that is low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise. Increasing movement supports your heart. It’s okay to start small and work your way into exercising 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Weight loss. Even modest weight loss can have a benefit for your heart. If you’re eating a heart-healthy diet and have increased your exercise, you are well on your way.
  • Reducing substance use. Limit or avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine.  
  • Reducing stress. While not always easy, even small reductions in stress can help protect your heart. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of an arrhythmia or would like to learn more about reducing your risk, contact Oklahoma Heart Hospital to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists at the Heart Rhythm Institute.