A chest x-ray

Arrhythmia Causes

A heart arrhythmia is a common condition that is classified as an improper beating of the heart, whether it is too fast, too slow, or irregular. There are different types of arrhythmias, as well as different causes and factors that can potentially increase your risk.

Types of Arrhythmia

There are many different types of arrhythmias that are classified by where they originate (atria or ventricles) and by the speed of heart rate they cause. Tachycardia is a term for an arrhythmia that causes a fast heartbeat, which is defined as a resting heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute. Bradycardia is an arrhythmia that causes a slower heartbeat than normal, which would be a resting heart rate of less than 60 beats per minute.

Arrhythmia Causes

Sometimes arrhythmias occur even if your heart is perfectly healthy. However, there are also many conditions, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors that can lead to developing a heart arrhythmia. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Electrical shock
  • Heart attack
  • Air pollution
  • Changes to the structure of your heart
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Prescription medications
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Scar tissue from a previous heart attack
  • Dietary supplements
  • Caffeine or alcohol
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Drug abuse
  • Diabetes

Arrhythmia Risk Factors

There are also certain factors that may increase your risk of developing an arrhythmia, such as:

  • High blood pressure: Since high blood pressure can cause the walls of your heart to become thick and stiff, this can change the way that electrical impulses travel through your heart. Additionally, high blood pressure increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease, which further increases your risk for arrhythmia.
  • Diabetes: If you have diabetes that is not controlled or managed correctly, this will significantly increase your risk for complications such as developing a heart arrhythmia.
  • Heart problems or previous heart surgery: If you have any previous or current problems with your heart, such as a heart attack, heart surgery, heart failure, narrowed heart arteries, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathy, this will increase your risk for many different types of arrhythmia.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This is a disorder that causes your breathing to be interrupted while you are sleeping, and it can increase your risk for bradycardia, atrail fibrillation, and other types of arrhythmias.
  • Taking certain medications or supplements: Taking certain prescription or over-the-counter cough and cold medications can contribute to the development of an arrhythmia.
  • Electrolyte imbalance: You have many different types of electrolytes that are present in your blood, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium. These electrolytes help trigger and conduct the electrical impulses in your heart, so when the levels of electrolytes are too low or too high, this can affect the electrical pulses of your heart and increase your risk for developing an arrhythmia.
  • Congenital heart disease: If you are born with any sort of heart abnormality, your risk of arrhythmia will be naturally higher.
  • Using stimulants such as nicotine or caffeine: Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine cause your heart to beat faster than normal, which can lead to the development of types of arrhythmias that are more serious. Using other illegal drug stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines can severely affect your heart’s rhythm and can even lead to sudden death from ventricular fibrillation.
  • Thyroid problems: If you have either an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), this will increase your risk for developing an arrhythmia.
  • Drinking too much alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can affect the electrical impulses in your hear which will increase your risk of atrial fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia. 
Last Updated: October 22, 2015