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Bradycardia-When Your Heart Slows Down

bradycardia

Bradycardia is the term used for when your heart abnormally slows down. 

You know, you expect your body to slow down a bit as you age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your heart too. So, is it a good or bad thing?

A slow heart rate is actually pretty common  in older adults, but it’s not always a problem.

As we get older there can be some normal wear and tear on the electrical system of the heart. As a result, the normal rhythm tends to slow down.

However, it does need treatment in some cases.

If your heart rate is slow, but you don’t have any symptoms, there’s no reason to worry. However, it’s a good idea to know the signs of trouble and consult your doctor if you notice any of them.

How slow is too slow?

  • A normal range for your heart rate  is from 60 to 100 beats-per-minute while awake. 

It’s not unusual, however, for the rate to slow down to between 40-60 beats per minute while we’re asleep.

With few exceptions, Doctors consider a heart rate below 60 beats per minute as low.

  • In true bradycardia, you’ll have a sustained heart rate below 60 even when you’re awake and active.

However, for most young people, highly trained athletes, and people who exercise regularly, a heart rate below 60 is normal and healthy.

It’s very possible to have a slow heart rate and experience no symptoms. But, if you have symptoms but ignore them, it can lead to more serious problems.

Symptoms of Bradycardia

If you feel your heart rate is too slow, and you’re experiencing some of the following symptoms, please see your Doctor as soon as possible for a complete evaluation.

  • Lack of energy
  • Low stamina
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Chest pains
  • Confusion/memory problems
  • Heart palpitations or flutters

If your heart rate drops into the 30s, you might not get enough oxygen to your brain, and will experience fainting, light-headedness and/or shortness of breath. This is a medical emergency.

In addition, blood can pool in your heart chambers, causing a condition known as Congestive Heart Failure. (click link for more information)

The most common cause of bradycardia is a malfunction in the heart’s natural pacemaker, known as the sinus node.

  • It controls how quickly the top and bottom heart chambers pump blood through the body.

Another cause is atrioventricular block (AV Block), where the top and bottom chambers don’t communicate well causing the heart rate to drop.

Some medications commonly prescribed for older populations are also likely to cause bradycardia.

In fact, age is the most common risk factor for this condition, and it’s more prevalent in people over the age of 65.

Illness or other conditions may also be responsible for a slower heart rate. The following are the most common:

  • Heart attacks due to Coronary Artery Disease
  • Bacterial infection in the blood that attacks the heart
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Low thyroid function
  • An electrolyte imbalance
  • Too much potassium in the blood
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers and antiarrhythmics
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic hypertension (high blood pressure)

Diagnosis and Treatment:

>>Your doctor will ask about your usual activities and conduct a physical exam.

>>He or she may use an electrocardiogram (EKG) to measure the electrical signals in your heart (to see whether they’re firing correctly).

holter monitor>>He/she may ask you to wear a 24 hour monitor to help him/her test how your heart is performing over time.

Your Doctor will also try to rule out any medications you take regularly or any other pre-existing conditions as the causes of the abnormally slowed heart rate.

If changing medications or other strategies do not resolve the bradycardia, a minimally invasive procedure to implant a pacemaker can solve the problem.

Bradycardia is rarely an emergency, however, and there is time to evaluate the condition, look for contributing factors, adjust medications or choose surgery for a pacemaker insertion.

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