What is Bradycardia?
Bradycardia is a slower-than-normal heart rate. One of its most common types is sinus bradycardia, where the heart rate is lower than 60 beats per minute.Your heart usually beats between 60 and 100 times a minute. If you have bradycardia, your heart rate will be less than 60 beats per minute (BPM). If your heart doesn't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body with each contraction, bradycardia can be a serious problem. But for some people, a slow heart rate won’t cause symptoms or complications.
Bradycardia is considered relatively common for some groups of people. Bradycardia may be common for many physically active adults, who have a resting heart rate below 60 BPM with no negative effects. Your heart rate may also fall below 60 BPM during deep sleep. Seniors are also more prone to bradycardia.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart disease and the diagnosis, management and treatment of bradycardia. You will appreciate timely appointments and respectful attention to your concerns, all in a positive and friendly atmosphere. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms of Bradycardia
Bradycardia symptoms occur if the slow heart rhythm is causing insufficient blood flow to the brain and may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or palpitations
- Confusion or trouble concentrating
- Fainting or near-fainting spells
How Serious is Bradycardia?
The seriousness of bradycardia depends on your personal circumstances. A heart rate below 60 BPM is common for young people, older people in good shape, and people who are sleeping. But if a slow heart rate leads to the symptoms described above, then you need to see your physician.
To diagnose bradycardia, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Common diagnostic procedures for bradycardia can include:
- Blood test:Blood tests check the levels of certain fats, cholesterol, sugar and protein in the blood that could indicate bradycardia and other heart conditions.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.
- An EKG will only diagnose bradycardia occurring while a patient is in the physician’s office. We may prescribe one of the following for longer-term monitoring:
- Event monitor: This portable EKG device records the heart rate when a button is pressed. It can be worn for weeks or until symptoms occur.
- Holter monitor: This portable EKG device continuously records the heart’s rhythms and is worn for 24 to 48 hours during normal activity.
- LINQ insertable cardiac monitor:This wireless, powerful, small insertable cardiac monitor is ideal for patients experiencing infrequent symptoms that require long-term monitoring or ongoing management.
Bradycardia causes vary from lifestyle choices to other types of heart disease. If bradycardia results from heart disease, it is caused by damage to heart tissue from heart disease. Factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease also increase the risk of bradycardia. Therefore, bradycardia can be caused by:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heavy alcohol use
- High blood pressure
- Psychological stress or anxiety
- Recreational drug use
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep apnea
Risk Factors for Bradycardia
Risk factors that could contribute to bradycardia include:
- Age: Men and women age 65 and older are most likely to develop a slow heart rate that needs treatment.
- Congenital heart defect: Problems with the structure or function of the heart present at birth can cause a slow heart rate.
- Electrolyte imbalance:Any abnormality in the body’s mineral balance – including calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium and sodium – can lead to a slow or irregular heart rate.
- Infection of the heart: Certain bacteria, viruses and parasites can infect the heart muscle, causing inflammation and damage leading to an irregular heart rate.
- Previous heart attacks: Heart attacks can weaken the heart muscle or cause problems with its electrical system.
- Low thyroid: An abnormally low level of thyroid hormones can cause a slow heart rate.
- Medications for other heart problems: Some medications for treating high blood pressure or other heart conditions like beta blockers, antiarrhythmics and digoxin (for heart failure) can cause bradycardia.
Prevention of Bradycardia
While some bradycardia risk factors like age and congenital heart defects cannot be controlled, the most effective way to prevent bradycardia is to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Take these steps to help prevent bradycardia.
- Control stress: Avoid unnecessary stress and learn healthy ways to handle everyday tension.
- Don’t smoke: If you already smoke and are having trouble quitting, ask your physician about programs and strategies to help you break the habit.
- Don’t use recreational drugs: If you’re using drugs, talk to your physician about treatment programs.
- Exercise and eat healthy: Get regular physical activity and eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Get regular checkups: Have regular physicals and, if you experience new or changing symptoms, see your physician.
- If you drink, do so in moderation: You may need to avoid alcohol if you have certain conditions. Ask your physician for advice. Limit your intake if you can consume alcohol.
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control: Make the lifestyle changes listed above and take medications as prescribed.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Exercise and eat a healthy, balanced diet to stay in a normal range.
- Monitor and treat existing heart disease: Understand your treatment plan. Take medications as directed. And report new or worsening symptoms immediately.
Prognosis varies depending on what’s causing bradycardia. Some conditions can be reversed or managed through medication, lifestyle changes and regular monitoring. Others may require a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
Bradycardia Treatment and Recovery
Bradycardia treatment depends on its cause, the presence of heart disease and the severity of your symptoms.
Many medications – including those prescribed for other heart conditions – can cause bradycardia. Your physician will check what medications you’re already taking and lower doses or offer alternative treatments that may correct problems with a slow heart rate. Some types of medication that may be given to bradycardia patients include:
- Beta blockers
- Pain medication
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator
This battery-powered device, placed under the skin, keeps track of the heart rate. If an abnormal heart rhythm is detected, the device will deliver an electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat. Newer-generation ICDs may have a dual function which includes the ability to serve as a pacemaker. The pacemaker feature would stimulate the heart to beat if the heart rate is detected to be too slow.
This small, battery-operated device can detect an abnormal heart rate and emit electrical impulses that stimulate your heart to beat at a normal rate. It is placed under the skin near your collarbone in a minor surgical procedure. A wire extends from the device to your heart.
Treatment of Underlying Conditions
If you are found to have a disorder like hypothyroidism, an electrolyte imbalance or sleep apnea, your physician will treat that condition, in addition to bradycardia, to restore your normal heart rate.
Some cases of bradycardia don’t cause symptoms or complications. If bradycardia is significant enough to cause symptoms, complications could include:
- Frequent fainting (syncope): If the heart doesn’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the brain, fainting and fall-related injuries can occur.
- Heart failure: When the heart is unable to pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body efficiently, symptoms affect various body systems.
- Sudden cardiac arrest or death: Inadequate blood flow can cause the heart to stop beating – leading to loss of consciousness. Breathing may also stop. This is a rare complication and usually seen in extreme cases.
Next Steps with MyChart
Discover MyChart, a free patient portal that combines your Baptist Health medical records into one location. Schedule appointments, review lab results, financials, and more! If you have questions, give us a call.