Certain factors may increase your risk of developing an arrhythmia. These include:

  • Coronary artery disease, other heart problems and previous heart surgery. Narrowed heart arteries, heart attack, abnormal valves, prior heart surgery, cardiomyopathy and other heart damage are risk factors for almost any kind of arrhythmia.
  • High blood pressure. This increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease. It may also cause the walls of your left ventricle to become stiff and thick, which can change how electrical impulses travel through your heart.
  • Congenital heart disease. Being born with a heart abnormality may affect your heart's rhythm.
  • Thyroid problems. Your metabolism speeds up when your thyroid gland releases too much thyroid hormone. This may cause fast or irregular heartbeats and may be linked to atrial fibrillation. Your metabolism slows when your thyroid gland doesn't release enough thyroid hormone, which may cause a bradycardia.
  • Drugs and supplements. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine and certain prescription drugs may contribute to arrhythmia development.
  • Diabetes. Your risk of developing coronary artery disease and high blood pressure greatly increases with uncontrolled diabetes.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea. This disorder, in which your breathing is interrupted during sleep, can increase your risk of bradycardia, atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias.
  • Electrolyte imbalance. Substances in your blood called electrolytes — such as potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium — help trigger and conduct the electrical impulses in your heart. Electrolyte levels that are too high or too low can affect your heart's electrical impulses and contribute to arrhythmia development.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can affect the electrical impulses in your heart or increase the chance of developing atrial fibrillation. In fact, development of atrial fibrillation after an episode of heavy drinking is sometimes called "holiday heart syndrome." Chronic alcohol abuse may cause your heart to beat less effectively and can lead to cardiomyopathy.
  • Caffeine or nicotine use. Caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants can cause your heart to beat faster and may contribute to the development of more-serious arrhythmias. Illegal drugs, such as amphetamines and cocaine, may profoundly affect the heart and lead to many types of arrhythmias or to sudden death due to ventricular fibrillation.
Feb. 27, 2013