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Bradycardia - Low Heart Rate

What is bradycardia?

Simply put, it's a low heart rate. Bradycardia is defined as a resting heart rate of under 60 beats per minute, although a normal heart rate can be less than 60 beats a minute during sleep or in a highly fit athlete. It is seldom symptomatic until the rate drops below 50 beats per minute.

What are the symptoms of bradycardia?

Symptoms can include:

  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • fainting or near-fainting
  • fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • palpitations
  • chest pain
  • difficulty exercising
  • confusion or difficulty concentrating

Some people have no symptoms.

What causes bradycardia?

Causes can include:

  • Normal age-related changes to the heart's electrical system
  • Damage to the electrical system caused by heart attack
  • Other medical conditions

Many people with bradycardia are living with heart disease and related conditions such as:

  • Long-term high blood pressure
  • Vascular heart disease
  • Heart valve disease or abnormalities
  • Abnormalities of the heart's ability to pump

For some people the cause of bradycardia is unknown. Possible reasons can include:

  • An underactive thyroid or other metabolic imbalance
  • Abnormalities within individual heart cells
  • Abnormal electrical properties of groups of heart cells
  • An electrolyte imbalance
  • Emphysema or other lung diseases
  • Drug use or abuse

How is it treated?

If there are no symptoms, or if symptoms are mild and sporadic, treatment may not be required.

Some medications, including some drugs used to treat other heart conditions, can cause bradycardia. Your doctor will review the medications you're taking and if necessary may recommend changing drugs or lowering dosages.

If an underlying disorder, such as hypothyroidism, is causing the bradycardia, treatment of the disorder may be required to correct it.

A pacemaker may be required to regulate the heartbeat. When the pacemaker detects that the heart rate is too slow or the heart is not beating, it emits electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to speed up or resume beating.

For more information on brachychadia see the Mayo Clinic.

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