Causes and Risk Factors of Cardiac Arrhythmias

The causes of cardiac arrhythmias are very varied. In many cases it's possible to identify them, but in some it isn't. For this reason, a medical check-up is essential.
Causes and Risk Factors of Cardiac Arrhythmias

Written by Maite Córdova Vena, 12 July, 2021

Last update: 12 July, 2021

The causes and risk factors of cardiac arrhythmias are as varied as their severity and medical consequences. For this reason, there are various ways to classify them.

Despite the diversity of causes that exist, experts have found that at a cellular level, arrhythmias share common electrophysiological properties. They also explain that there are three main mechanisms behind them: automatism, triggered activity and reentry.

Generally speaking, this means that when the heart’s electrical system has difficulty functioning, the electrical signals take different routes than normal, and they can even be delayed or blocked. For this reason, when the heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly, it’s called cardiac arrhythmias.

In order to provide the patient with an adequate diagnosis and treatment, it’ll be essential to differentiate and understand what’s occurring.

Common causes of cardiac arrhythmias

There may be several underlying causes for arrhythmias, which is why it isn’t always easy to determine their exact origin. Even so, the following ones that we’re going to mention below are usually taken into account.

Previous pathologies

Causes and risk factors for cardiac arrhythmias include high blood pressure
High blood pressure is often associated with the development of cardiac arrhythmias.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obstructive sleep apnea may be the cause of arrhythmias. Also coronary artery disease and other congenital heart problems, such as mitral regurgitation.

In addition to this, having undergone previous heart surgery makes the person more prone to experiencing arrhythmias.

In addition to high blood pressure, it should be noted that the consumption of medication for high blood pressure can also cause arrhythmias.

Heart failure

As the experts from the Spanish Heart Foundation indicate, “heart failure occurs when there’s an imbalance between the heart’s ability to pump blood and the body’s needs.” This causes the heart to lose strength.

Abnormal potassium levels in the body

Electrolyte imbalances in the body can also lead to arrhythmias. Especially the imbalances of calcium, magnesium and potassium, which play a fundamental role in the cardiovascular system.

Idiopathic

Arrhythmias that don’t have a clear origin – even after having investigated them in depth – are included in the category of “idiopathic”.

According to some specialists, it seems that these could have a genetic origin. However, they also tell us that it’s necessary to continue looking further into this matter.

Risk factors

Causes and risk factors for cardiac arrhythmias include obesity
Some metabolic conditions such as obesity can predispose to the development of cardiac arrhythmias.

Arrhythmias can occur both in healthy people (of any age) and in people with underlying heart disease. Some risk factors that may affect this would be the following:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Dehydration
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Thyroid problems
  • Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption
  • Illegal drug use
  • Some medications and supplements (such as over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, drugs for depression, antibiotics, etc.)
  • Genetic inheritance: increases the propensity to suffer arrhythmias
  • Aging: People may be more likely to experience arrhythmias in later life, and for this reason many of them will need pacemakers.

When to consult the doctor?

Some arrhythmias remit spontaneously, others by attending to the cause that has produced them, and, in other cases, the arrhythmias produce a significant impairment in cardiac function, and can be fatal. Therefore, in the event of any significant discomfort (which occurs regularly or suddenly), it’s best to consult with the doctor as soon as possible.

It isn’t advisable to ignore the problem or postpone the consultation for a long time, as the sooner a diagnosis and appropriate treatment is received, the greater the person’s well-being. On the other hand, experts recommend improving lifestyle habits.

If you notice dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting or syncope, and other symptoms that prevent you from leading a normal life or which cause you to feel uneasy, it’s essential to seek urgent medical help.

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