Sick Sinus Syndrome

What is Sick Sinus Syndrome?

The sinus node is the built-in pacemaker of the heart. It maintains the natural rhythm.  When it malfunctions and causes irregular electrical impulses it results in a rare disorder known as sick sinus syndrome. It most often strikes those over 50 years of age, but it can also afflict children who had upper heart chamber surgery. The condition is categorized by the pattern of misfires.

  • Sinus arrest – Electrical signals pause
  • Sinoatrial block – Slow heartrate
  • Fast heartrate
  • Bradycardiatachycardia syndrome – Electrical signals alternate between a fast and slow rate and commonly include a lengthy pause between beats and occurs most commonly

The electrical pathways of the heart can become damaged by scarring from prior surgeries. Sick sinus syndrome can also be caused by certain drugs including beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and digitalis. The sinus node can also naturally weaken with age.

What are the Symptoms of Sick Sinus Syndrome?

Most people with sick sinus syndrome are asymptomatic and do not realize they have heart rhythm problems. Others may experience few or intermittent symptoms. The signs of sick sinus syndrome may include:

  • Fluttering in the chest (heart palpitations)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Chest discomfort or angina
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Confusion
  • Feeling faint
  • Passing out

Sick Sinus Syndrome Causes

It’s not clear what causes sick sinus syndrome (SSS), but there are a range of factors which are associated with the disease which helps us to understand who is most at risk of the condition.

Firstly, age is a major factor, with most people with the syndrome being over the age of 50. In these cases, it appears that damage to electric pathways in the heart tissues are to blame. In some instances, SSS can affect children, but it tends to occur only as a result of surgery on the upper chambers of the heart.

Various cardiovascular diseases are strongly associated with SSS, including:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Aortic valve disease
  • Mitral valve disease
  • Previous myocardial infarction (heart attack)

It’s also known that medications used to treat high blood pressure and other heart diseases are associated with SSS.

Thyroid disease, sleep apnea and hyperkalemia are also regularly associated with SSS. Other conditions which are linked to the disorder less frequently include:

  • Diptheria
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Muscular dystophy
  • Amyloisodis

How is Sick Sinus Syndrome Treated?

The treatment of sick sinus syndrome may include:

  • Medication adjustments
  • Pacemaker implant
  • Anti-arrhythmias medications
  • Ablation (AV node or radiofrequency)
  • Heart healthy lifestyle changes

Sick Sinus Syndrome Prevention

Since it isn’t fully understood what causes sick sinus syndrome, it can be tough to prevent it. However, by maintaining a healthy heart you may be able to prevent various types of heart and cardiovascular diseases and therefore reduce the risk of SSS.

The following lifestyle factors can help maintain a healthy heart:

  • Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight

Obesity is strongly linked with heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Strive for a healthy BMI to reduce the risk.

  • Eat well

A balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products, lean meats, seeds, nuts and legumes, and a moderate amount of fat, sugar and sodium will help to keep the heart healthy.

  • Exercise

Adults should complete at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five times each week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous exercise, three times each week, or a combination of both.

  • Stop smoking

Smoking dramatically increases the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease, but the risk reduces more and more the longer you stop smoking for.

  • Control blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol

Normal blood pressure is 120 or less systolic and 80 or less diastolic, while the ideal blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dL. Both of these can be checked by your doctor or with a home-testing device. Cholesterol levels can only be assessed through a complete fasting lipoprotein profile, performed by a healthcare professional, and should be less than 100mg/dL. Exercise, balanced diet and healthy weight can all help to reduce high blood pressure.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 08, 2017