How to Minimize the Risk of Arrhythmia
Cardiac arrhythmia is an abnormality in the electrical conduction of pulses in the heart, where the heart may beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. Most people experience arrhythmia without any serious threat to their health; however, arrhythmia can become life-threatening when it interferes with the blood supply to the vital organs. Decreased blood supply to the vital organs can cause serious damage to the brain, heart and lungs;therefore, it's important to understand how you can minimize the risk of arrhythmia.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Exercise.When you want to avoid conditions that can cause arrhythmia, conditioning your heart to be stronger is a good first step. To do this, you need to exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times per week. Heart problems are common in obese people, so exercise can help overweight people to lose and control their weight. Exercise also helps the heart to pump sufficient blood throughout the body.
- Basic cardio exercises include walking, jogging, swimming and biking. These activities should be done four to five times per week, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- People with pre-existing heart disease or arrhythmia are advised to see a doctor before proceeding with an exercise plan. The types of exercises you can do may be different than others. People with pre-existing conditions are usually advised to start gently and slowly increase the intensity of exercise over time.
Give up drinking.Drinking alcohol may contribute to vasoconstriction, which can cause your heart to pump twice as fast. It can also affect the electrical impulses in your heart. These things may trigger arrhythmia. To avoid this, stop drinking so it doesn't cause further damage.
- If you are at risk for heart arrhythmia, you should not drink any alcohol. The consumption alone can cause an irregular heartbeat.
Quit smoking.Carbon monoxide may increase ventricular fibrillation (VF),in which the heart just twitches and stops pumping any blood to the brain, lungs, kidneys, or within itself. This state is lethal and will lead to death.
- Ask your doctor about ways to quit, such as gum, patches, lozenges, shots, medication, or group therapy.
Cut down on caffeine.Coffee acts as a stimulant which increases the heart’s pumping action. This additional stress may trigger arrhythmia.This is typically true for caffeine in large doses in all people, but any caffeine can cause heart arrhythmia in those at risk.
- The average person does not need to necessarily cut out caffeine completely. Instead, make sure you are consuming what is considered normal amounts for adults in one day, about 400mg.
Be careful with medications.Certain over the counter and prescription medications have negative side effects that may cause arrhythmias. These medications include some cough and cold medicines, which have certain ingredients that change your heart rate. Prescription medication that do similar things include antibiotics and antifungals, drugs used in psychotherapy such as antidepressants like SSRI’s, MAOI’s, TCA’s, diuretics, and agents used to control sugar levels.
- Always talk to your doctor before taking any medications, as some drugs may increase your heart rate.
Avoid stress.High levels of stress can impact general heart health, though it may not have a direct impact on arrhythmia. Stress increases cortisol levels, which constricts the blood vessels and makes the heart pump twice as much.
- Learn to cope with stressful events by sharing your worries and concerns with someone else, by going to spas or by doing yoga and meditation.
- You can also avoid stress by cutting back on work, taking a vacation, and spending more time with your friends and loved ones.
Using Medical Treatment
Take your prescribed medications.If you are at risk of arrhythmia, there are medications that may be prescribed by your physician to control your heart rate. These are not over-the-counter drugs and are only available on prescription.
- Anti-arrhythmic drugs:Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, amiodarone and procainamide are some of the drugs that target Beta receptors and certain ionic channels located in the heart to normalize the heart rate as well as control blood pressure.
Discuss cardioversion with your doctor.Cardioversion is a procedure in which a cardiologist uses a machine to give the heart an electrical shock to help it conduct electricity within your heart and help restore a normal rhythm. This is done by placing patches or paddles on your chest and releasing the electric current into your chest.
- This can be used in non-emergency conditions to help correct arrhythmias, especially in the case of blocked pacemakers.
Get a catheter ablation.A doctor can identify the specific area of the heart where arrhythmias occur the most. With this procedure, your doctor threads catheters through your blood vessels to your heart. The catheters then emit extreme heat, extreme cold, or radio wave frequency to block the area of the heart that is causing the abnormal rhythm.
Consider getting a pacemaker.Doctors may implant a pacemaker, which is a tiny device that is implanted in your body that facilitates electrical impulses to the damaged node in the heart to help it pump more slowly. Nodes are the source of the electrical impulses that help the heart to pump blood.
- If the pacemaker feels an irregular heart rhythm, it emits an electrical impulse that stimulates your heart to beat correctly.
- Also ask about implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). ICDs are very similar to a pacemaker except they help the ventricles, or lower portions, of you heart. They also emit electrical pulses to keep your heart at a correct rhythm when the normal rhythm falters.
Understanding the Risks
Know what arrhythmia means.When the heart does not beat properly, it does not pump blood effectively all over the body, especially to the organs that are highly dependent on blood supply such as the brain, lungs and kidneys. Inadequate blood supply may cause these organs to become damaged in the long run and eventually shut down.
- According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 600,000 people die from sudden cardiac death per year and up to 50% or patients have sudden death as the first manifestation of cardiac disease.
Recognize the signs and symptoms of arrhythmia.Normally, the heart fires impulses that start from the sinoatrial node. However some conditions, such as blocks in the conduction pathway, predispose the heart to fire in abnormal rates that cause irregular beats. These irregular beats may decrease blood supply to the vital organs.
- This can lead to symptoms such as heart palpitations, fatigue, slow heart beats, chest pain, loss of consciousness, dizziness, lightheadedness, mental confusion, fainting, shortness of breath, and sudden death.
Research your family history.Family history is the most significant risk factor for arrhythmia. Figure out if an immediate relative has heart disease and find out what age he was when he discovered the arrhythmia. This can make a difference — arrhythmia in an 80-year-old is most likely not genetic, but an arrhythmia in a 20-year-old is much more likely. Look for conditions such as a heart attack, angina, angioplasty, or a blocked artery. These conditions are genetic and cannot be changed.
- Genetics plays the most important role in how you should manage yourself because these risk factors are ones that you cannot change. However, you can make sure you follow a healthy lifestyle that reduces any additional risk of arrhythmia over time.
Keep a check on your blood pressure.High blood pressure can put you at risk for arrhythmia. To keep a watch on your blood pressure, check your blood pressure often. You can get free readings from machines found at many pharmacies, grocery stores, or general stores.
- If you systolic blood pressure, which is the top number, is 140 or higher, you need to change your lifestyle, such as reduced sodium diet weight loss and close follow up. If you have a family history of coronary artery disease, you most likely will need medication and lifestyles changes to help reduce it.
Watch out for other risk factors.There are a few other conditions that can cause arrhythmia. Overactive and underactive thyroids can cause arrhythmia. Individuals with obstructive sleep apnea may suffer from some for of arrhythmia as well. You may also suffer an arrhythmia if you have an electrolyte imbalance in your blood.
- Some of these conditions can be treated in other ways, so ask your doctor about treating the underlying condition that puts you at risk of arrhythmia.
Work with your personal risk factors.The risk factors for arrhythmia are varied and can affect each person differently. You need to be aware of how many risk factors you have. Make sure you understand your particular risk profile, which your doctor can help your to understand.
- Once you understand, set personal goals specific to you personal risk factor profile so that your actions will help you the most.
Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet
Know the limitations of diet.A heart-healthy diet is a good idea to improve overall heart health, but arrhythmia, which are a very specific electrical problem with the heart that, for the most part, is inborn and cannot be altered by diet.
Follow a balanced diet.Eating a balanced diet is the easiest way to minimize the risk of arrhythmia. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein sources from meat, poultry and dairy products.
- See your doctor or a nutritionist and ask them to plan a heart-healthy diet for you to follow.
Increase omega-3 fatty acids.Omega-3 is a type of healthy oil that is beneficial for the heart. Omega-3 fatty acid acts like a broom which sweeps LDL away from the arteries. It also help balance the rhythm of your heart.Eat oatmeal for breakfast because it is rich in omega-3s. Bake or steam salmon for dinner because salmon is a deep sea fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Sweeping LDL away is especially important for the coronary arteries that are located near the heart, as plaque build-up from cholesterol is a common cause of coronary artery disease.
- Add some fruit to your breakfast or some vegetables and whole-grain bread to your salmon to make them complete, healthy meals.
- If you don't like salmon, try tuna, mackerel, or herring.
Add avocados to your diet.Avocado is a rich source of monosaturated fats, which help to raise HDL (high density lipoprotein, or the “good cholesterol”) while decreasing LDL levels. Add avocado to salads, into sandwiches, or add a slice to any snack.
- You can also make desserts with avocado as well, such as chocolate mousse. These desserts are better for you because they use better, healthier ingredients.
Use olive oil.Like avocado, olive oil is a rich source of monosaturated fats that decrease LDL. Add olive oil to a marinade, as part of a dressing on a salad, or use it when sauteing vegetables. This will incorporate just enough of the oil into your diet to get the heart healthy benefits without increasing your fat intake too much.
- When you're in the grocery store, look for “extra virgin” olive oil as it is less processed than regular olive oil.
- Olive oil is a great substitute for butter or other oils when you cook.
Snack on nuts.Live fish and oatmeal, nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats. Healthy fats help you lose weight and have more energy. Nuts also have fiber in them, which will help your overall health. Try eating a handful of walnuts, pecans, macadamias, or almonds as a tasty, healthy snack.
- You can also add nuts to recipes, such as almond crusted fish or roasted walnuts with sauteed green beans.
Consume more fresh berries.Berries are naturally full of antioxidants, which reduce harmful substances and toxins in the body. They also contain anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce the risk of heart disease as well as cancer. Grab a handful as a healthy, sweet snack instead of processed, refined sugar filled sweets.
- Also try sprinkling some fresh berries like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries over your morning cereal or add them to yogurt.
Try to eat more beans.Beans are high in fiber, which helps to reduce cholesterol by pulling out LDL from your blood. Beans also contain omega 3 fatty acids and calcium, which help reduce heart problems and possible arrhythmia.
- Try adding black beans to Mexican dishes, chickpeas or cannellini beans to a salad, and kidney beans to soups and stews. You can also eat them by themselves as a side dish to any meal, such as steamed salmon or baked chicken.
Include flaxseed in your diet.Flaxseed is rich in fiber as well as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the heart. You can combine with your morning oatmeal or add a teaspoon of flaxseed to baked goods..
- Also try flaxseed meal, which you can add to baked goods as well.
- The normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. When the heart beats very fast (more than 100 beats per minute) it is called tachycardia and when the heart beats very slow (less than 60 beats per minute) it is called bradycardia.
- There is no literature to suggest any herbal remedy to decrease the chances of developing an arrhythmia. However, there is a multitude of case reports and published articles documenting the dangers of stimulant herbal products in triggering arrhythmias.
Sources and Citations
- Zipes, DP., DiMarco, JP, et al ,Guidelines for Intracardiac Electrocardiac Electrophysiological and Cardiac Ablation Procedures a Report of the American College of Cardiology 1995, 26, 555-573
- Cardiology/American Heart Association: Guidelines on the Assessment of Cardiovascular Risk June 24, 2014. Vol 120, n.25
- Dominco, J, Baklfor, A et al, The 5 minute Clinical Consult, pp.
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