Reflex Bradycardia

Understanding reflex bradycardia

High blood pressure can cause your heart to slow down as your body tries to respond to the threat, but what causes it and what can be done to help?

What is reflex bradycardia?

This a bradycardia, or decrease in your heart rate, which happens as a result of one of your body's homeostatic mechanisms aimed at preventing abnormal rises in your blood pressure, known as the baroreceptor reflex. Basically, this means that your body slows your heart to deal with potential blood pressure rises.

Bradycardia is when your heart beats at an abnormally slow rate of under 60 beats per minute. Hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, can cause this to happen. This is because hypertension makes it very hard for the heart to push blood into circulation. Your body responds with a reflex, slowing your heart to try to get your blood pressure down.

To make this easier to understand, think about what linebackers do when they are faced with an opponent. They will often slow right down, almost stopping completely, as their opponent refuses to move. Your heart does the same when it is pushing against resistance caused by high blood pressure.

Bradycardia in more detail

Your heart should normally beat at a rate of 60 to 100 beats-per-minute but when it goes under 60 beats it is thought to be unusually slow and this is termed as bradycardia.

In some cases, bradycardia can be seen as normal. Some athletes and people who are very physically active, for example, can have a resting heartbeat of as little as 50 beats per minute. This is because regular exercise increases your heart's performance when pumping blood, meaning that the body needs fewer heart contractions to supply its needs.

Symptoms of bradycardia

There may be no symptoms associated with reflex bradycardia but a slow heart rate can lead to insufficient blood getting to the brain and there may be problems associated with this. The most common of these symptoms include:

  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Near-fainting or fainting spells
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty exercising
  • Cardiac arrest in very extreme cases

Bradycardia complications

If left untreated or in its most severe form, bradycardia can cause complications with long-term effects and even death. Complications can include heart failure, loss of consciousness or fainting (known as vasovagal syncope), and chest pain (or angina pectoris).

Treatment for reflex bradycardia

The treatment for reflex bradycardia focuses on treating the underlying condition, which in this case is high blood pressure.

What is hypertension?

Hypertension or high blood pressure is high pressure, or tension, in your arteries. These are vessels carrying blood around your body from your heart. Your blood pressure is read using two numbers; the systolic pressure at the top (which is arterial pressure when your heart contracts) and the diastolic pressure at the bottom (the pressure as your heart relaxes).

Normal blood pressure should be under 120/80 and it is called ‘pre-hypertension' if it reaches from 120/80 to 139/89. Meanwhile, a systolic blood pressure of under 100 or 90 is considered low and one of 140/90 or over is said to be high.

High blood pressure complications

Around one in every three adults in the US, or around 76.4 million people, are affected by high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. If left untreated, complications can include kidney or renal disease, heart disease, a hardening of arteries (arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis), stroke and eye damage.

Treatment for hypertension

Lifestyle changes can substantially decrease blood pressure in some cases and you may also be prescribed medication to prevent complications from hypertensions. Recommended treatments of lifestyle changes include:

  • Limiting alcohol
  • Eating a low-salt, well-balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Staying at a healthy weight

If you have high blood pressure, you should ensure that it is monitored regularly. This will alert you to any changes and show you if any lifestyle alterations and medication are having the desired effect.