While some factors that influence the development of an arrhythmia can't be controlled (like your genes), others can. Many arrhythmias arise because of some form of heart disease. For example, atherosclerosis—when arteries become clogged with fatty deposits—can lead to bradycardia or tachycardia. So the same guidelines that apply to preventing heart disease also apply to preventing arrhythmias. Those include:
- Diet: According to the American Heart Association, a heart-healthy diet is high in fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day) and in whole grain foods. It includes lean protein sources like fish, beans, and low-fat dairy products, derives most of its fat from unsaturated fats like olive oil, and avoids saturated fats, trans-fats, and cholesterol.
- Obesity: It's also important to balance the calories you eat with calories you burn through daily activity and exercise. Obesity is linked to heart disease.
- Exercise: In addition to helping control weight, daily exercise that works the aerobic system—like brisk walking, running, bicycling, swimming, or even household chores—is good for your heart.
- Smoking and alcohol: The American Heart Association recommends you quit smoking and restrict alcohol use to one drink a day for women and two a day for men (a drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits).
- Stress: Daily stress has also been linked to heart disease, so remove as much stress as you can from your daily life.
In addition to general guidelines for preventing heart disease, there are other factors that specifically influence arrhythmias.
- Supplements: Be sure to tell your doctor about any herbal remedies you may be using. Ephedra, the herbal supplement once promoted as a diet aid and energy booster, increases the risk of arrhythmia. In 2004 the FDA pulled it from the shelves for that very reason. Other herbal supplements may contribute to arrhythmias.
- Caffeine, nicotine, and other drugs: Stimulants, both legal and illegal, can contribute to the development of heart arrhythmias. Caffeine and nicotine may in some cases cause premature heartbeats, which, over time, may develop into more serious arrhythmias. Cocaine and amphetamines also accelerate the heart rate, in some cases leading to serious ventricular fibrillation and sudden death. In addition to alcohol's role in heart disease, a single episode of heavy consumption can trigger arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation.
- Medications: Many medications have as a side effect the potential to cause arrhythmias. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines may speed up the heart. And approximately 50 FDA-approved medications have the potential to prolong the QT interval—the measure of time it takes for the electrical system in the ventricles to recharge after each heartbeat—and thus cause the acquired form of long QT syndrome (LQTS), in which the heart's mechanical or pumping function is normal but its recharging system is slow or inefficient. Those medications include certain antibiotics, antidepressants, antifungals, antihistamines, psychotropic medications, oral hypoglycemics (medications for diabetes), and even drugs used to treat heart disease like lipid-lowing medications and diuretics. It's important that people with inherited LQTS, then, always ask physicians and pharmacists if a prescribed medication has the potential to aggravate the condition.
Last reviewed on 2/10/2009
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