• Risk Factors for Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disturbances)

    A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
    It is possible to develop arrhythmias with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing arrhythmias. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk of arrhythmias.


    Normal aging process makes the heart more susceptible to arrhythmias. As a result, arrhythmias are more common in people who are aged 60 years or older, but they can occur at any age, even in children. Risk can be compounded by other health conditions or treatments that can affect the heart's rhythm.

    Cardiovascular Conditions

    Chronic cardiovascular conditions prevent the heart and blood vessels from functioning normally. These conditions reduce the body's blood supply while increasing the heart's workload. Over time, the extra strain can damage the heart muscle and/or blood vessels, increasing the risk of arrhythmias. Cardiovascular conditions include:

    Medications and Other Substances

    Certain medications and everyday substances may interfere with your heart's electrical circuit, increasing your risk of arrhythmias. These include:
    • Nicotine from smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products
    • Excess alcohol intake
    • Excess caffeine
    • Over-the-counter medications, such as cough and cold medicines
    • Dietary and herbal supplements
    • Prescription medications that are used to treat:
      • Heart conditions
      • Asthma
      • Mental disorders, such as depression
      • Thyroid disorders
      • Pain—specifically opioids
    • Illegal stimulants, such as cocaine and methedrine

    Other Risk Factors

    Other factors that are associated with arrhythmias include:


    Barsky AJ, Cleary PD, et al. The clinical course of palpitations in medical outpatients. Arch Intern Med.. 1995;155:1782.

    Lok NS, Lau CP. Prevalence of palpitations, cardiac arrhythmias and their associated risk factors in ambulant elderly. Int J Cardiol 1996;54:231.

    Mostofsky E, Penner EA, et al. Outbursts of anger as a trigger of acute cardiovascular events: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Heart J. [Epub 2014 Mar].

    Murray-Thomas T, Jones ME, et al. Risk of mortality (including sudden cardiac death) and major cardiovascular events in atypical and typical antipsychotic users: a study with the general practice research database. Cardiovasc Psychiatry Neurol. [Epub 2013 Dec].

    Peretto G, Durante A, et al. Postoperative arrhythmias after cardiac surgery: Incidence, risk factors, and therapeutic management. Cardiol Res Pract. [Epub 2014 Jan].

    Sarter BH, Finkle JK, et al. What is the risk of sudden cardiac death in patients presenting with hemodynamically stable sustained ventricular tachycardia after myocardial infarction? J Am Coll Cardiol. 1996;28:122.

    Understanding your risk for arrhythmia. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/UnderstandYourRiskforArrhythmia/Understand-Your-Risk-for-Arrhythmia%5FUCM%5F002024%5FArticle.jsp. Updated October 25, 2012. Accessed March 19, 2014.

    Who is at risk for an arrhythmia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/atrisk.html. Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed March 19, 2014.

    7/1/2015 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Qureshi WT, O'Neal WT, Khodneva Y, et al. Association between opioid use and atrial fibrillation: The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(6):1058-1060.

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