Understanding a Slow Heart Rate

A slower-than-normal heart rate is called bradycardia. An adult heart at rest beats between 60 and 100 times in a minute. Bradycardia refers to heartbeats lower than 60 times a minute. A slow heart rate becomes a problem because sufficient oxygen-rich blood is less. The different body parts do not get enough oxygen. The result may be shortness of breath. Feeling exhausted, and dizzy may result.

In some cases, bradycardia does not result in symptoms. In some situations, the heart rate slows down. During sleep for instance the heart rate reduces to 40-60 beats a minute. Trained athletes and healthy young men and women may also have a slower heartbeat. The problem arises in some people with severe bradycardia who may need an artificial pacemaker.

Symptoms of Bradycardia

If vital body organs like the brain and lungs, kidneys and liver do not get enough oxygenated blood, certain signs may appear.

  • Fainting or partial fainting

  • Confused thoughts

  • Chest pain

  • Jumbled up memory

  • Quickly tiring during physical activity

  • Nausea

  • Short of breath

If one or more of these symptoms linger, consult a healthcare professional. Avoid postponing.

What are the Possible Bradycardia Causes?

Certain medications like sedatives and opioids slow down the heart rate. Drugs that treat heart rhythm problems or high blood pressure may have a similar impact. Mental health medications could have a similar effect.

  • Myocarditis or an inflamed heart tissue

  • Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid gland

  • Lack of chemicals like potassium and calcium

  • Sleep apnea interfering with breathing

  • Heart surgery complications

  • Rheumatic fever or lupus

  • Heart defects from birth

  • Aging might lead to heart tissue damage

  • Damaged heart tissues after a heart attack

Bradycardia Prevention Strategies

If heart disease exists, make sure that all medications and instructions are strictly followed. Though preventing bradycardia is not possible, minimize heart disease through a few steps.

  • According to age, interests, and health condition, find the best exercises to keep the heart fit.

  • Guard against obesity.

  • With the right diet and exercise, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol remain within safe limits.

  • Aim for less salt, less fat, and less sugar. Insist on vegetables and fruits, whole grains too.

  • Minimize and preferably quit smoking and alcohol consumption.

  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation. Join a social media group for support.

  • Go for regular health check-ups.

Understanding the Sinoatrial Node

School lessons teach about the 4 heart chambers. The 2 upper chambers are the atria. The 2 lower chambers are the ventricles. The right atrium contains the sinus node which is the pacemaker created by nature. The sinus node motivates the heartbeat through signals. Aging weakens the sinoatrial node and the heartbeat. The atrioventricular node may also weaken and reduce the heartbeat. Usually, the AV node gets the electrical signal from the SA node. The electrical translates into the mechanical contraction that pumps blood around the body. Bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome occurs when slow and fast heartbeat alternate.

Along with the age factor in the seventies, heart disease even at a younger age is the problem. Blood pressure medications can also slow down the heartbeat. The SA or the VA node or both may not function properly. Along with a healthy diet, ample exercise keeps the heart fit.

3 Levels of Heart Blockage

Bradycardia may occur if the SA signals do not communicate properly from the atria to the ventricles. The result is heart block or atrioventricular block.

  • In a mild case, signals from the atria reach the ventricles but slowly. This is the first degree that does not require any treatment when everything else is well.

  • In the second degree, some signals are missed. It is a slow and irregular heartbeat.

  • In the severe third degree, it is a complete heart block. No electrical signal from the atria reaches the ventricles. The ventricles continue to beat but very slowly.

Emergency Situations

In extreme cases, the heart cannot pump ample blood and the result is heart failure. A sudden cardiac arrest could result in death. Frequent fainting and loss of consciousness indicate such dangers due to a weak heartbeat.

Chest pain and confusion, labored breathing and disturbed vision are other symptoms to watch out for. A bluish skin color or pale skin and difficulty in concentration spell trouble. Consult the emergency health services without delay.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A specialist studies the medical history followed by a physical exam. Vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate are checked. ECG or EKG reflects the electrical activity. Further tests if needed may be thyroid, blood glucose, and electrolyte levels. Holter monitoring and sleep study may also be needed.

The first line of drug treatment is usually atropine. Dopamine, epinephrine, and glycopyrrolate may also be prescribed.

Prevention is the best policy through an active, exercise-filled lifestyle. A healthy heart diet minimizes such bradycardia problems. If symptoms appear, get medical attention at the earliest.

Updated on: 24-Apr-2023


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