Some changes in heart rate and rhythm are normal during sleep, physical activity and moments of stress.
But other times, irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, may be a serious problem. Untreated arrhythmias such as tachycardia or atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF) can have serious consequences, including cardiac arrest and stroke.
Are you at risk?
Risk factors for arrhythmia include:
Heart disease: Some types of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, are risk factors for AFib, which is a type of arrhythmia. Scarring or abnormal tissue deposits can also cause bradycardia (slow heart rate) or tachycardia (rapid heart rate) by interfering with the heart’s electrical system.
Age: The prevalence of arrhythmia and AFib increases with age.
Congenital conditions: Certain conditions from birth may make a person prone to arrhythmia. For example, a congenital heart defect that affects the organ’s built-in electrical system can cause bradycardia. And those born with extra electrical pathways can be prone to tachycardia.
Chemical agents: Different kinds of chemical agents can cause arrhythmias, sometimes with serious consequences. Minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium play a vital role in the heart’s normal function. But those same minerals may cause arrhythmias when their levels are too high or too low. Addictive substances, including alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs, can also provoke arrhythmias. Even various cardiac medications may cause arrhythmia.
Other factors: Talk to your doctor to control other factors that may lead to arrhythmia:
- Reduce high blood pressure.
- Control cholesterol levels.
- Lose excess weight.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Do regular physical activity.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Atrial fibrillation and its risk factors
Atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF) is a type of arrhythmia that occurs when an abnormal electrical signal interferes with the heart’s normal pumping function. A wide range of factors can make you prone to AFib:
- Underlying heart disease
- Underlying lung disease
- Past heart attack or heart failure
- Heart surgery
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Cigarette and stimulant drug use (such as caffeine)
- Family history
Men and older people are more likely than women and younger people to develop AFib.
Talk to your doctor
Know your risk factors and talk to your doctor to lessen your chances of arrhythmia or to treat it if it occurs.
Knowledge is power. Being aware of arrhythmia, its dangers and risks can give you the upper hand when it comes to heart health.