Bradycardia is a slow heart rate. It often does not cause symptoms. If symptoms occur, they may include fatigue, lightheadedness, and exercise intolerance.
Symptomatic bradycardia is a slow heart rate — less than
Bradycardia may occur more often in young athletes and older adults and during sleep. A slow heart rhythm may originate from the sinus node, the atrioventricular nodal tissue, and the specialized His-Purkinje conduction system. These components send electrical signals into the heart muscle and control the heart rate.
A slow heart rate in young people or athletes or during sleep is often benign and does not require treatment if a person has no symptoms. However, older people who experience symptomatic bradycardia may need treatment.
This article explores the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and possible treatments for symptomatic bradycardia.
Most people with bradycardia, including younger athletes,
- exercise intolerance
- worsening angina
- difficulty thinking and processing information clearly
- worsening heart failure
These symptoms develop when a person’s heart rate becomes too slow,
Complications of bradycardia can include frequent fainting, heart failure, and cardiac arrest.
Though some symptoms may go unnoticed, a person should go to the emergency room or call 911 if they experience:
- chest pain or discomfort
- shortness of breath
- a sudden feeling of weakness
Several conditions and issues may lead to bradycardia.
- are recovering from heart surgery
- have obstructive sleep apnea
- have an illness or infection that affects their heart
- take certain heart medications
- have imbalances of chemicals in their blood, such as calcium and potassium
- have an inflammatory disease such as lupus
- have an underactive thyroid
- have experienced damage to their heart tissue
- have congenital heart anomalies or problems that affect the electrical signals in the heart
A person may be able to tell that their heart rate is slow. They may do this by counting their pulse for 1 minute. A more accurate option may be to use a wearable heart rate monitor such as a smartwatch or a chest strap.
People should consult a doctor if they think their heart rate is slow or if they experience symptoms of bradycardia. In order to diagnose bradycardia, a doctor will
- cardiac event recorder
- Holter monitor
- implantable loop recorder
A doctor may perform a physical exam and review a person’s medical history and medications.
Healthcare professionals may also order blood tests to help them determine whether an electrolyte imbalance, a thyroid stimulating hormone imbalance, or another issue may be contributing to someone’s bradycardia.
They may order additional tests to check for possible infections or other underlying causes. These can include:
- viral panels
- chest X-rays
- urinary analysis
- blood cultures
People with severe types of bradycardia, such as complete heart block,
A doctor may review a person’s medications. If they suspect that a medication may be the cause, they may recommend that the person switch medications to help improve their bradycardia.
Finally, a doctor may recommend treatment of any other underlying condition a person has.
- eating a heart-healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- quitting smoking or vaping
- taking steps to manage their weight
- managing their blood pressure and cholesterol levels
A doctor can help monitor a person’s heart rate and provide additional recommendations for treatment.
Symptomatic bradycardia is a slow heart rate that causes a person to experience various symptoms due to the decreased beats per minute.
A slow heart rate can cause several potential symptoms, such as fatigue, slowed thinking, and difficulty with exercise.
Diagnosis typically requires an EKG or another form of monitoring. A doctor may recommend other tests to identify the causes of someone’s bradycardia.
Once a doctor diagnoses bradycardia and identifies its possible cause, they will take steps to treat it, which may include changing a person’s medications and treating any underlying conditions.
With a doctor’s guidance, a person may also make lifestyle changes to help improve their heart health. These may include regular exercise, weight management strategies, and a nutritious diet.