What is Bradycardia?
Bradycardia is defined as a slow or irregular heart rhythm. Brady means slow and Cardia means heart. A healthy heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute, pumping about 284 liters of blood every hour.
When you have bradycardia, the heart beats fewer than 60 times per minute. At this rate, the heart is not able to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to your body during normal activity or during periods of exercise. As a result you might feel dizzy, short of breath, or have fainting spells.
Bradycardia can occur for several reasons. Common causes of bradycardia include:
- Congenital heart disease (ie, condition you were born with)
- Certain illnesses or heart medications
- The natural aging process
- Scar tissue from a heart attack
- Sick sinus syndrome, also called sinus node dysfunction (the heart’s natural pacemaker and ICDs not functioning correctly)
- Heart block (the electrical impulse that travels from the upper to the lower chamber of the heart is irregular or blocked)
When your heart beats too slowly you may experience various symptoms. These symptoms include dizziness, fainting, chronic lack of energy, and shortness of breath. Help your doctor assess the severity of your heart condition and determine the appropriate treatment for you.
Your risk of developing an abnormally slow heart rate (bradycardia) is greater if you:
- Have certain types of heart disease
- Are taking certain medicines
- Are age 65 or older
- Have recently had heart surgery
Only your doctor can determine if you have bradycardia and how far the condition has progressed. To rule out or confirm the diagnosis of bradycardia, one or several diagnostic tests may be ordered, depending on the suspected heart rhythm problem.
These diagnostic tests include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Exercise, ECG, or stress test (measures your heart rhythm while you’re engaged in physical activity)
- Holter or event monitor (24 to 72 hour ECG)
- Tilt table test
- Electrophysiology study (EP study)
Your doctor may also use a monitoring device to better understand the cause of unexplained fainting episodes.
These monitoring devices include:
- External loop recorder
- Insertable loop recorder
The treatment strategy for bradycardia is dependent on what is causing the slower than normal heart rate as well as the patient's symptoms. If another medical problem, such as hypothyroidism, is causing a slow heart rate, treating it may indirectly affect bradycardia.
Treating these problems with new medicines, or adjusting the doses of the medicines you are currently taking, may restore a normal heartbeat. If the damage within the heart's electrical system is causing a slow heart rate, you may be eligible for an implantable heart device called a pacemaker and ICD. Pacemakers and ICDs are small devices that are implanted under the skin, most often below your collarbone on the left or right side of your chest, to help restore the heart's rhythm.
By sending tiny electrical signals to the heart to increase the heart rate, a pacemaker and ICD can relieve the symptoms of bradycardia.
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