Arrhythmias are very common in older adults. Atrial fibrillation (a common type of arrhythmia that can cause problems) affects millions of people, and the number is rising.
Most serious arrhythmias affect people older than 60. This is because older adults are more likely to have heart disease and other health problems that can lead to arrhythmias.
Older adults also tend to be more sensitive to the side effects of medicines, some of which can cause arrhythmias. Some medicines used to treat arrhythmias can even cause arrhythmias as a side effect.
Some types of arrhythmia happen more often in children and young adults. Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), including Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, is more common in young people. PSVT is a fast heart rate that begins and ends suddenly.
Major Risk Factors
Arrhythmias are more common in people who have diseases or conditions that weaken the heart, such as:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure or cardiomyopathy, which weakens the heart and changes the way electrical signals move through the heart
- Heart tissue that's too thick or stiff or that hasn't formed normally
- Leaking or narrowed heart valves, which make the heart work too hard and can lead to heart failure
- Congenital heart defects (defects present at birth) that affect the heart's structure or function
Other conditions also can raise the risk for arrhythmias, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Infections that damage the heart muscle or the sac around the heart
- Diabetes, which increases the risk of high blood pressure and coronary heart disease
- Sleep apnea, which can stress the heart because the heart doesn't get enough oxygen
- An overactive or underactive thyroid gland (too much or too little thyroid hormone in the body)
Several other risk factors also can raise your risk for arrhythmias. Examples include heart surgery, certain drugs (such as cocaine or amphetamines), or an imbalance of chemicals or other substances (such as potassium) in the bloodstream.