Bradycardia is a heart rate below normal. Sixty to 100 beats a minute is normal for most people, and a reduced rate could cause problems, though for some people a slow heart rate is normal. Many healthy young people have a slow heart rate — a sign of being fit. For others, however, bradycardia points to heart damage that could affect the amount of blood the heart is able to pump through the body.

What are the common causes of bradycardia?

There are several common causes of bradycardia that include:

  • Heart damage related to aging
  • A congenital heart defect
  • Heart diseases such as coronary artery disease
  • Infections such as myocarditis or endocarditis
  • Medications for treating heart problems or high blood pressure
  • Conditions that slow or block electrical impulses from traveling through the heart. Hypothyroidism is one of these conditions. Another is an imbalance of chemicals in the blood (like calcium or potassium)
  • Repeated disruption of breathing during sleep (apnea)
  • Inflammatory diseases such as lupus or rheumatic fever

A natural pacemaker (the sinus node) in the right atrium of the heart controls your heart rhythm. It produces electrical impulses that travel across the atria. The impulses cause them to contract and pump blood to the ventricles. Other signals cause the ventricles to contract and pump blood. The right ventricle sends blood depleted of oxygen to the lungs.

The left ventricle sends oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Bradycardia is often caused by a problem with the heart’s sinus node. It may discharge electrical impulses at a slower rate, pause or fail to discharge. Blocking or slowing down of electrical signals can also cause bradycardia.



What are the symptoms of bradycardia?

If your heart rate is too slow, it may cause:

  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • A fluttering (palpating) or pounding heart
  • Trouble concentrating and confusion
  • Fainting spells

Sometimes symptoms are mild, and people shrug them off as a result of aging. Other people may not have symptoms at all. You can take your pulse to find out how fast your heart is beating. A slow heart rate does not usually cause problems until it drops below 50 beats per minute.



What are the risk factors of bradycardia?

You have a greater risk of developing bradycardia if you:

  • Are 65 years of age or older
  • Have some heart disease
  • Take certain medications
  • Have recently had heart surgery



How is bradycardia diagnosed?

The first thing your doctor is likely to do is to take your pulse. After doing a physical examination, he may want to do diagnostic tests. These help to confirm a diagnosis of bradycardia.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) tests heart rhythm. A problem with bradycardia is that it may not be consistent. A standard ECG may not pick it up if it isn’t happening during the test.

Your doctor may decide to do a portable electrocardiogram. You will have to wear a lightweight device (Holter monitor) for 24 hours or more. It records your heart rhythm while you go about your daily activities.

You may have blood tests to determine other possible causes of your slow heart rate.



How is bradycardia treated?

The treatment for bradycardia depends on what is causing your symptoms. If you have no symptoms, you may not need any treatment. If hypothyroidism is causing your slow heart rate, adjusting medication is necessary.Your doctor may adjust your dose or prescribe a different medication if you are taking for high blood pressure or a heart condition.  At times if your heart's electrical system gets damaged. You have to follow the standard treatment. It is to implant a pacemaker. This device is implanted under the skin and corrects a slow heart rate.

A pacemaker consists of three elements. A pacemaker and a pacing lead go inside your body. The pacemaker is a little metal case. It contains electronic circuitry and a battery. The pacing lead is a wire that ferries electrical impulses from the pacemaker to the heart. Surgeons usually place these two elements on the right or left side of the chest or under the collarbone.

The pacemaker monitors the heart. If it detects a slow heart rhythm, it sends out electronic signals to correct it. The third element is a programmer that does not go inside the body. A doctor or nurse uses it to check on the pacemaker by using a special computer. They can make adjustments to settings if necessary.



What is the goal of treatment?

The goal of treatment is to raise your heart rate to a normal level. The increase in your heart rate means your body gets the oxygenated blood it needs. If bradycardia is severe and it is not treated, it can cause serious problems.

You may faint and receive injuries from fainting. It is possible to have seizures, and at its worst, it may even cause death.



How can I prevent bradycardia?

Bradycardia is often caused by damage to the heart from heart disease. Factors that increase heart disease risk also increase bradycardia risk. One of the best ways to prevent bradycardia is to make lifestyle changes. It decreases your risk of heart disease.

  • Keep stress levels are under control
  • Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Drink in moderation
  • Don’t use recreational drugs

If you feel as though you’re going to pass out, experience severe shortness of breath or have chest pain that lasts for than a few minutes, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or get emergency assistance.



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