Understand Your Risk for Arrhythmia

mother and son smiling

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.

View an animation of an arrhythmia.

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 defects. Certain conditions present from birth may make a person prone to arrhythmia. For example, a congenital heart defect that affects the heart'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.

Lifestyle habits. Certain lifestyle habits including drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and using illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, can also cause arrhythmias. 

Medications. Many widely used medications may cause or worsen a variety of arrhythmias.

Other factors. Talk to your health care professional to learn what you can do to control other factors that may lead to arrhythmia. These include:

Talk to your health care professional

Know your risk factors and talk to your health care professional to lessen your chances of arrhythmia or to treat it if it occurs.

Being aware of arrhythmia, its dangers and risks can give you the upper hand when it comes to heart health.