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Reducing Your Risk of Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disturbances)

Arrhythmias have many causes. Long term health problems may cause heart damage over many years. A heart attack may cause sudden, urgent problems. The best way to keep this from happening is to keep your heart healthy. Many risks can be changed or controlled. The more risks you have, the higher the chances of having heart rhythm problems.

How to Lower Your Risk of Arrhythmias

There are a few steps you can take to lower your chances of certain types.

Control Stress

Stress may raise your risk of arrhythmias if you have other risks. Stress or anxiety can quickly raise your blood pressure and heart rate. Long term stress can make problems worse. If you can't get rid of stress from your life, you can take steps to control it with:

  • Counseling
  • Stress management classes
  • Learning how to relax
  • Yoga
  • Regular exercise

Know the Medicines You Take

Ask your doctor how your medicines affect your heart rhythm. If you are already at a high risk, ask about other medicines you can take in their place. Common ones are:

  • Diet pills
  • Medicines used to treat:
    • Heart diseases
    • Asthma
    • Mental health problems
    • Thyroid problems
  • Cough and cold remedies
  • Opioids to ease pain

Don't Use Illegal Drugs

Stay away from drugs, mainly cocaine and amphetamines. They make your heart beat faster. This can lead to heart damage and arrhythmias.

How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

You can keep your heart healthy by:

  • Quitting smoking—Doing so lowers your risk of heart-related and other diseases within the first year. Short term benefits begin within hours of quitting.
  • Eating foods that are good for your heart—Focus on lowering saturated fats and cholesterol. Eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Ask your doctor if you need vitamins or supplements.
  • Getting regular exercise—Choose activities you enjoy so you can make them part of your day. Exercise lowers stress, makes you feel better, and makes the heart muscle stronger. Try to get at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. If you have a job where you sit all day, it may be more helpful to aim for 60 minutes a day. Talk to your doctor first.
  • Control alcohol intake—Moderate drinking is one drink a day or less for women and two drinks a day or less for men. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or one ounce of 100-proof spirits.
  • Keep a healthy weight—Portion control, along with healthy food choices, will keep you on the right track. If you need help, check the Choose My Plate or American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics websites.
  • Control other health problems you may have—Follow doctor’s advice if you have other health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
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D'Alessandro A, Boeckelmann I, Hammwhoner M, Goette A. Nicotine, cigarette smoking and cardiac arrhythmia: An overview. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2012;19(3):297-305.

Illegal drugs and heart disease. American Heart Association website. Available at:https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/illegal-drugs-and-heart-disease. Accessed January 3, 2019.

Leaf A. Omega-3 fatty acids and prevention of arrhythmias. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2007;18(1):31-34.

Prevention strategies for atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF). American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation/treatment-and-prevention-of-atrial-fibrillation/prevention-strategies-for-atrial-fibrillation-afib-or-af. Accessed January 3, 2019.

Stress management. Help Guide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm. Updated December 2018. Accessed January 3, 2019.

12/9/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115449/Dietary-considerations-for-cardiovascular-disease-prevention: Bao Y, Han J, Hu FB, et al. Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(21):2001-2011.

7/1/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115288/Atrial-fibrillation: 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.

12/15/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113884/Physical-activity-for-cardiovascular-disease-prevention. Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown WJ. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet 2016;388(10051):1302-1310.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 1/3/2019