Preventing Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disturbances)
Reducing Your Risk
The most common cause of dangerous arrhythmias is a heart attack, which results from heart disease. Prevention of arrhythmias is mostly a matter of reducing your risk of heart disease and then preventing subsequent rhythm disturbances if you survive the first one. However, there are a few measures that specifically influence your risk of arrhythmias.
General Guidelines for Reducing Your Risk of Arrhythmias
Stress may raise your risk of arrhythmias if you have predisposing factors. If you need support or assistance in reducing stress, you may want to try some of the following techniques:
- Stress management classes
- Relaxation techniques
Beware of Medications That May Cause Arrhythmias
Ask your doctor or pharmacist what effect your medications will have on heart rhythm. If you are predisposed to arrhythmias, ask about substitutes for the drugs that can precipitate an abnormal rhythm. Be particularly wary of:
- Diet pills
- Certain heart medicines
- Asthma medicines
- Psychoactive medicines (eg, antidepressants)
- Thyroid replacement
- Cough and cold medicines
Avoid Illegal Drugs
Avoid illegal drugs, especially cocaine, methedrine, and other amphetamines.
General Guidelines for Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease
- If you smoke, quit.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Low in saturated fat and cholesterol
- Rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
- Exercise regularly.
- Take your medications as directed.
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- One or fewer alcoholic beverages per day for women
- Two or fewer alcoholic beverages per day for men
If You Smoke, Quit
Smoking can increase the amount of fatty material that collects in your arteries. Also remember that secondhand smoking is detrimental to your health. Make sure you're not exposed to cigarette smoke. When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops significantly within the first year.
Eat a Heart-healthy Diet
A diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight—three heart attack risk factors. Follow the meal plan recommended by your doctor. Also, there is evidence to suggest that supplementation with omega3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of arrhythmias. Talk to your doctor about this.
Follow your doctor’s recommendations for physical activity. After a heart attack, he or she will likely refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program, which will help you establish a life-long exercise plan and monitor your initial program. Choose exercises you enjoy and will make a regular part of your day. Strive to maintain an exercise program that keeps you fit and at a healthy weight. For most people, this could include walking briskly or participating in another aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes per day.
Maintain a Healthful Weight
Follow the dietary and exercise plan recommended by your doctor or dietitian. Being overweight or obese is associated with higher risk of heart attack, and losing weight lowers that risk. To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you expend. To maintain a healthy weight , eat an amount of calories equal to the calories you expend. One indicator of a healthy weight is body mass index (BMI). BMI of 25 and above is associated with high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease.
Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation
Heavy drinking is associated with increased risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking may lower the risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer or four ounces of wine or one ounce of 100-proof spirits. In addition, be aware that alcohol may interfere with your medications, and chronic intake of alcohol may have deleterious effects on your health.
Take Your Medications as Directed
Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce your risk of heart disease. These may include medications to lower your blood pressure, manage your cholesterol levels, or manage diabetes (if you have diabetes). If your doctor has prescribed medications, take them exactly as directed and report side effects to your healthcare provider immediately. Do not skip pills or stop taking them without consulting your healthcare provider.
American Dietetic Association website. Available at:
American Heart Association website. Available at:
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine.14th ed. McGraw-Hill; 1998.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
Leaf A. Omega-3 fatty acids and prevention of arrhythmias.
Curr Opin Lipidol.2007;18(1):31-34.