What is Bradycardia?
Bradycardia is a type of arrhythmia where the heart beats at a slower than normal rate. A normal heart will beat anywhere from 60-100 times per minute. At times, like during sleep or in some athletes, the heart may beat less than 60 times per minute, and be completely normal, but often a slow heart beat is a medical condition that requires treatment.
Symptoms of Bradycardia
A slower heart rate means less oxygen-rich blood is being pumped through the body, and symptoms are related to this lack of oxygen. Bradycardia can vary widely in severity and in symptoms. Sometimes the condition is so minor that no symptoms are experienced, and no treatment may be required. If symptoms are experienced, they may include:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
Causes of Bradycardia
Bradycardia can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Congenital defect – Irregular heartbeat present at birth.
- Aging – Degenerative process of aging can cause the heart to slow down.
- Medication – Some cold medicines and diet pills have been known to cause arrhythmia.
- Heart disease – Dysfunction of the electrical pathways of the heart can cause bradycardia.
If you experience symptoms of bradycardia, consult your physician. Even though most occurrences are not life-threatening, it is best to have this condition diagnosed and monitored. Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history to determine the cause of your symptoms, and may prescribe various tests. Tests may include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) – The heart’s electrical impulses are recorded and measured to indicate the presence of arrhythmia.
- Portable EKG – If initial EKG is inconclusive, your doctor may prescribe the use of a portable EKG that can monitor the heart for 24 hours.
- Stress EKG or Stress Test – EKG is performed while the patient exercises, usually jogging on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.
- Electrophysiologic Study (EPS) – A more invasive test where the doctor inserts a small tube through a blood vessel, running it to the heart, where he/she can more closely determine the cause of the arrhythmia.
Treatment for bradycardia varies from person to person and depends upon the severity, frequency and cause of the bradycardia.
Medication to prevent blood clots, to control low blood pressure or to control other medical conditions (such as thyroid disease) can be effective in preventing bradycardia.
Various surgical procedures can also be effective in preventing bradycardia. Procedures include:
- Electric shocks – electrical shocks given to reset the heart rate
- Pacemaker – surgically inserted to regulate the heart beat