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Bradycardia is a condition where the heart beats less than 60 beats per minute. Under normal conditions, the heart beats about 60-120 beats per minute. Let’s learn more about bradycardia from the following paragraphs.

What is Bradycardia?

A very slow heart rate, that falls below the normal 60 beats per minute is considered as bradycardia. This condition can lead to many serious complications in some individuals as the heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to other parts of the body.

In some individuals, especially trained athletes, the heart rate is slower than normal. And this does not lead to any symptoms or complications in them. This is because, their heart adapts to slow resting heart rate, to prevent tachycardia when they are vigorously trained.

Symptoms of Bradycardia

Bradycardia may result in:

  • Syncope (fainting spells)
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Tiring or burning out easily when carrying out physical activity
  • Confusion
  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath

Severe bradycardia can lead to heart attack as well as death.

Causes ofBradycardia

Some of the causes of slow heartbeat include:

  • Problems with the natural pacemaker of the heart, the sinoatrial (SA) node
  • Problems with the electrical impulses from the atria to the ventricles
  • Damage to the heart tissue due to previous heart ailments such as heart attack or natural aging
  • Hypertension
  • Congenital birth defect
  • Myocarditis
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Use of certain medications for heart rhythm disorders, psychosis, high BP, etc.
  • Recreational drug abuse

Diagnosis for Bradycardia

Bradycardia is detected when the heart rate is detected at less than 60 bpm. The doctor will take the family history as well as the medical history of the patient. A physical examination will be conducted to check the overall health of the patient. The doctor will check if the skin appears too dry or the hair is thin and dry. This will determine if any underlying thyroid problems have a role to play.

The doctor will also ask you to do some exercises like sit-ups and then check your heart rate and rhythm. Usually an ECG is carried out to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, the bradycardia may come and go, so one may have to undertake an ambulatory electrocardiography test. This test requires the patient to wear a portable EKG machine called the Holter monitor. The test is conducted over the period of 24 hours and if required, for a longer period, if the symptoms are infrequent. Whenever one experiences the symptoms, they need to press a button on the monitor to help record the ECG.

Treatment for Bradycardia

If there is an underlying disorder that leads to bradycardia, the doctor will first treat it. For example, hormone therapy in case of hypothyroidism. Bradycardia can be treated with the help of an artificial pacemaker that helps monitor and regylate the heart beats at an appropriate rate.

Bradycardia in most individuals does not lead to any complications, as these individuals have trained their body to adapt to their vigorous physical activity schedule. Thus, athletes may never show any signs of bradycardia. However, other individuals may suffer from frequent fainting spells, etc. Speak to your doctor and get your condition monitored and treated. A very slow heart rate can prove to be fatal, if not treated promptly.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 07, 2015

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