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Bradycardia is a heart rate that’s too slow. What’s considered too slow can depend on your age and physical condition. Elderly people, for example, are more prone to bradycardia.
A resting heart rate of fewer than 60 beats per minute (BPM) can be called bradycardia for adults. But there are exceptions. Your heart rate may fall below 60 BPM during deep sleep. And physically active adults (and athletes) are so fit that they often have a resting heart rate slower than 60 BPM.
Bradycardia can be a serious problem if the heart doesn't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body. For some people, however, bradycardia doesn't cause symptoms or complications.
A heart rate that’s too slow can cause insufficient blood flow to the brain. Symptoms of bradycardia include:
Left untreated, severe or prolonged bradycardia can cause:
Causes of bradycardia include:
To diagnose your condition, your doctor will also order tests.
An electrocardiogram also called an EKG, is a primary tool for evaluating bradycardia. Small sensors (electrodes) attached to your chest and arms record electrical signals as they travel through your heart.
Your doctor might use an EKG monitor while performing these tests:
Your doctor might also have you measure your heart rate at home. These methods include:
Your doctor may also order blood tests to screen for conditions that might be contributing to bradycardia, such as an infection, hypothyroidism, or an electrolyte imbalance.
If sleep apnea is suspected of contributing to bradycardia, you might undergo tests to monitor your sleep.
Treatment for bradycardia depends on the type of electrical conduction problem, the severity of symptoms, and the cause of your slow heart rate. If you have no symptoms, treatment might not be necessary.
If a disorder such as hypothyroidism or obstructive sleep apnea is causing bradycardia, your doctor will need to treat the disorder to correct your heart rate.
When other treatments aren't possible, a pacemaker may be necessary. This device is implanted under your collarbone. It monitors your heart rate and generates electrical impulses as necessary to maintain an appropriate rate.
There are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing bradycardia or any heart rhythm disorder:
Lifestyle changes are also important ways to improve the outlook of a person with bradycardia.
Presbyterian’s Heart and Vascular team has many different options to help you manage your heart condition. The team performs various diagnostic tests and procedures to help form an accurate diagnosis and create individualized treatment plans for your heart health needs. Depending on the type of heart condition you have and its underlying cause, the team can recommend a wide variety of treatment options, including lifestyle modifications, medications, and procedures. Our cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons work closely together for cases in which surgery is the best treatment option. We also offer a customized cardiac rehabilitation program at our Healthplex, where clinically appropriate, which can improve your endurance and exercise tolerance, as well as improve heart-related symptoms. Your cardiologist will work with the rehabilitation team to create a plan that will be tailored to your individual health needs.