What is Bradycardia?

The term bradycardia refers to a slower than normal heart rate. The human heart normally beats anywhere from 60 to 100 beats every minute. When a person’s heart beats less than 60 times in a minute, they have bradycardia.

However, bradycardia is not always considered to be problematic. Some people have naturally slower heart rates than normal and do not require any treatment for the condition. There are also times when bradycardia can be an issue.

When a person’s heart rate is not naturally slower, bradycardia is caused by a disruption in the electrical impulses that control the rhythm and rate of the heart. Some of the reasons for these disruptions include aging, hypothyroidism, a congenital heart defect, obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure, heart disease, or damage from a heart attack. Heart infections like myocarditis and endocarditis can also drastically reduce the heart rate and cause bradycardia.

What are the Symptoms of Bradycardia?

There are many signs and symptoms of bradycardia. These include dizziness, fatigue, fainting or feeling as if the person is going to faint, and weakness. Other symptoms can include chest pain and shortness of breath. Sometimes, a person will also feel confusion, have memory problems, or feel especially unwell during and after exercises.

Bradycardia Causes

Bradycardia has numerous causes, some of which are hereditary.

The list of causes includes:

  • heart tissue damage as a result of aging
  • heart tissue damage as the result of heart disease (like coronary artery disease) or a heart attack
  • congenital heart defect (usually present at birth)
  • myocarditis (a heart tissue infection) or endocarditis
  • complications arising from recent heart surgery
  • hypothyroidism (from an underactive thyroid gland)
  • electrolyte imbalances (like too much potassium)
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • rheumatic fever, lupus, or other inflammatory diseases
  • some medications, including drugs for other heart rhythm conditions, psychosis, and high blood pressure (beta-blockers, antiarrhythmics, and digoxin, for example).

There are also many risk factors for bradycardia. Most of those factors are the same as for heart disease.

This list includes:

  • Age
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Smoking
  • Heavy Drinking
  • Recreational Drug Use
  • Psychological Stress or Anxiety

How is Bradycardia Treated?

Bradycardia treatment protocols depend on the causes for the condition as well as the severity of the condition. If bradycardia was caused by a heart infection, for example, antibiotics to treat the infection along with close monitoring may help resolve bradycardia. Hypothyroidism can be resolved by taking a daily hormone replacement medication. High blood pressure is also treatable using prescription medications.

Surgery may also be necessary to treat bradycardia, even with prescription medications used to treat other contributing conditions. Implanting a pacemaker can help to control the rate of the heart and keep it within normal levels and corrects the heart rate if it starts to dip below normal levels.

Bradycardia Prevention

Because bradycardia is a result of numerous heart-related conditions including heart disease, doctors believe the best way to prevent bradycardia from occurring is to reduce the risk of heart disease if someone has not already been diagnosed.

Measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of heart disease include:

  • getting regular exercise
  • eating a healthy diet
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol under control
  • (if you smoke) stop smoking
  • if you drink, don’t drink excessively
  • avoiding recreational drug use
  • finding coping techniques and other ways to manage your stress levels
  • make regular visits to your doctor and let them know if you start experiencing signs or symptoms of heart disease

Lowering the risk of bradycardia once a person has been diagnosed with heart disease involves following the treatment plan as discussed with their doctor. If anything changes, they should let their doctor know immediately.