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Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate)
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.
Bradycardia can be caused
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.
find out how fast your heart is beating by
taking your pulse. If your heartbeat is slow or uneven, talk to your
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 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
seizures or even death.
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:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about bradycardia:
Living with bradycardia:
Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on
physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your
nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information
about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a
nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and
provide information and support.
The Heart Rhythm Society provides information for
patients and the public about heart rhythm problems. The website includes a
section that focuses on patient information. This information includes causes,
prevention, tests, treatment, and patient stories about heart rhythm problems.
You can use the Find a Specialist section of the website to search for a heart
rhythm specialist practicing in your area.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing
Other Works Consulted
Akoum NW, et al. (2008). Pacemaker therapy. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 1, chap. 7. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
Olgin J, Zipes DP (2012). Bradyarrhythmias section of Specific arrhythmias: Diagnosis and treatment. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 813–824. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Vijayaraman P, Ellenbogen KA (2011). Bradyarrhythmias and pacemakers. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's The Heart, 13th ed., pp. 1025–1057. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.
Wolbrette DL, Naccarelli GV (2007). Bradycardias: Sinus nodal dysfunction and atrioventricular conduction disturbances. In EJ Topol et al., eds., Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 3rd ed., pp. 1038–1049. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
November 21, 2011
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
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