Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate)
What is bradycardia?
Having bradycardia (say “bray-dee-KAR-dee-uh") means that your heart beats very slowly. For most people, a heart rate of 60 to 100 beats a minute while at rest is considered normal. If your heart beats less than 60 times a minute, it is slower than normal.
A slow heart rate can be normal and healthy. Or it could be a sign of a problem with the heart's electrical system.
For some people, a slow heart rate does not cause any problems. It can be a sign of being very fit. Healthy young adults and athletes often have heart rates of less than 60 beats a minute.
In other people, bradycardia is a sign of a problem with the heart's electrical system. It means that the heart's natural pacemaker isn't working right or that the electrical pathways of the heart are disrupted. In severe forms of bradycardia, the heart beats so slowly that it doesn't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. This can cause symptoms and can be life-threatening.
Men and women age 65 and older are most likely to develop a slow heart rate that needs treatment. As a person ages, the electrical system of the heart often doesn't function normally.
What causes bradycardia?
Bradycardia can be caused by:
What are the symptoms?
A very slow heart rate may cause you to:
Some people don't have symptoms, or their symptoms are so mild that they think they are just part of getting older.
You can find out how fast your heart is beating by taking your pulse. If your heartbeat is slow or uneven, talk to your doctor.
How is bradycardia diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose bradycardia by doing a physical exam, asking questions about your past health, and doing an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG measures the electrical signals that control heart rhythm.
But bradycardia often comes and goes, so a standard EKG done in the doctor's office may not find it. An EKG can identify bradycardia only if you are actually having it during the test.
You may need to use a portable (ambulatory) electrocardiogram. This lightweight device is also called a Holter monitor or a cardiac event monitor. You wear the monitor for a day or more, and it records your heart rhythm while you go about your daily routine.
You may also have blood tests to find out if another problem is causing your slow heart rate.
How is it treated?
How bradycardia is treated depends on what is causing it. Treatment also depends on the symptoms. If bradycardia doesn't cause symptoms, it usually isn't treated.
The goal of treatment is to raise your heart rate so your body gets the blood it needs. If severe bradycardia isn't treated, it can lead to serious problems. These may include fainting and injuries from fainting, as well as seizures or even death.
What can you do at home for bradycardia?
Bradycardia is often the result of another heart condition, so taking steps to improve your heart health will usually improve your overall health. The best steps you can take are to:
Get emergency help if you fainted or if you have chest pains or have severe shortness of breath. Call your doctor right away if your heart rate is slower than usual, you feel like you might pass out, or you notice increased shortness of breath.
People who get pacemakers need to be careful around strong magnetic or electrical fields, such as MRI machines or magnetic wands used at airports. If you get a pacemaker, your doctor will give you information about the type you have and what precautions to take.
For example, call your doctor right away if you have symptoms that could mean your device isn't working right, such as:
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