Bradycardia: What is Slower Heart Rate & Why it is a Serious Complication?

Posted on January 17, 2019

A normal person’s heart beats about one hundred thousand times a day depending on the number of beats per minute (BPM). The most common factors that affect the rhythm of the heart include age, daily activities, diet, and medications. For instance, a normal heart rate of an adult is between 60 and 100 BPM when at rest. As people age, the beating of the heart changes and becomes slower than normal due to the usual wear and tear of the heart’s electrical system.

A heart rate that’s too slow (usually below 60 BPM) is what people regard as Bradycardia. Although most of the times, a slower heart rate may be considered harmless especially during sleep when it goes between 40 and 60 BPM or lower. In addition, people who are more physically fit such as athletes and other long distance runners tend to have a slower heart rate that is below 60 BPM since their hearts pump blood more efficiently and therefore doesn’t require to beat within the normal range.

A heart rate that’s slower than normal can be a life-threatening issue especially when one is not training for a marathon or when not performing difficult tasks every day. Such individuals are advised to seek medical assistance as soon as they notice a heart rate that’s not normal.



Different Types of Bradycardia

1. Sinus Node Dysfunction

A heartbeat starts at a point known as a sinus node (the heart pacemaker). This condition develops when the node doesn’t work normally. The condition starts when the pacemaker discharges electrical signals or impulses at a slower rate than is usual, fails or pauses to discharge at a normal rate, or when it discharges impulses that are blocked before the upper heart chamber contracts.

2. Tachy-Brady

Syndrome People with this type of bradycardia experience a heartbeat that stops and pauses (slow-heart-rhythms that alternate with fast-heart-rhythms) and becomes very fast at times. This is also known as Supraventricular Tachycardias (irregular heartbeats) and is associated with symptoms such as fainting, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness.

Causes and Symptoms of Bradycardia

1. Causes of Bradycardia

Many heart conditions are caused by old age and bradycardia is no exception although most of its causes can vary widely from one individual to another. A change in the normal rhythm of the heart may be noticed after heart surgery (as one of the side effects) or after heart disease. Also, drug abuse, smoking, and hypertension may be one of the causes of a slower heart rate.

Other common causes include:

  • Damage to the heart tissue related to old age and other heart diseases such as heart disease.
  • Heart disorder such as congenital heart defect present at birth.
  • Hyperthyroidism (Underactive thyroid grand).
  • Myocarditis (An infection to the heart tissue).
  • Inflammatory diseases including lupus and rheumatic fever.
  • Lack of balance to blood chemicals such as calcium and potassium.
  • Obstructive Sleep apnea.
  • Some drugs prescribed for Psychosis, Hypertension, and other heart rhythm problems.

2. Symptoms of Bradycardia

The symptoms of a slower heart develop when the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to the brain and the rest of the body. People experiencing a low heart beat associated with most of the following symptoms should immediately consult a medical professional.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pains that may indicate low blood supply to the heart
  • Light-headedness
  • Palpitations or Heart Flutters
  • Confusion or Trouble Concentrating or Focusing
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting Spells
  • Difficulty when performing exercises
  • Cardiac Arrest

Why Bradycardia is Considered a Serious Health Complication?

A slower heart rate may become more dangerous especially if you have symptoms that go undiagnosed. When the heart pumps blood at a slower rate such as 30 BPM, your brain doesn’t get as sufficient oxygen as your body needs in order to work normally. This is what makes most people with bradycardia experience symptoms such as fainting and shortness of breath.

Moreover, too much blood can pool around the chambers of your heart causing more serious problems such as the following:

  • Heart Failure (Inability to pump enough blood to all body parts)
  • Frequent faint spells
  • Sudden cardiac arrest or death

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Bradycardia

1. Diagnosis of Bradycardia

A low heartbeat is not always present as the rhythms can go in and out, and slow and fast, making it very difficult for most doctors to detect the main problem.

During diagnosis, your doctor may use a heart performance monitor when performing a test known as a Cardiac EKG or ECG (electrocardiogram) in order to measure your heart’s electrical activity. This test is done using several electrodes placed over your skin to check the possibilities of heart disease. The results are recorded on a computer screen or a piece of paper.

In case you’re not diagnosed with any signs of bradycardia but you had experienced several symptoms, your doctor may recommend you to carry a cardiac event recorder or a twenty-four-hour recorder that can record your EKG when you have symptoms. Some of the benefits of carrying a cardiac event recorder include:

  • Makes records of your EKG or ECG when you have symptoms such as slow or fast heartbeats, or when you want to faint.
  • Most of them store the recorded information (symptoms) in memory so that it can be sent to your doctor for review.
  • Carrying the device includes no health risks.
  • It tells your doctor if the sinus node (pacemaker) is functioning properly, and if your heart is supplying enough blood to the body.
  • It also monitors if your prescribed drugs are working properly.

Additionally, you may be asked several questions regarding your health history and that of your family together with the symptoms they have had This will help to identify the main cause of bradycardia for easier treatment.

2. Treatment of Bradycardia

After diagnosis, your doctor might give you several medications depending on the cause of the problem. Some doctors may prescribe beta blockers — drugs that help to relax the heart muscles. If the drugs make the problem worse, for instance slowing your heart rate further, they may consider lowering the dosage or giving you a different medicine.

If the drugs don’t work in situations when the condition is more serious or severe enough to put your vital body organs including the brain at risk, your doctor may advise you to get a pacemaker. A minor surgery will be done to put the device in your chest so as to help you have a steady heart rate keeping your heart pumping blood within the normal rate.

3. Prevention of Bradycardia

To reduce the chances of developing this condition, you need to keep yourself active by exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet with low sugar, fat, and salt. Others include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoid smoking
  • Managing stress
  • Going for regular check-ups
  • Keeping cholesterol and blood pressure under control
  • Avoiding recreational drugs


A slow heart rate should be taken as a serious health issue and be diagnosed as early as possible in order to prevent or treat the condition with ease. People who go with this problem undiagnosed can develop heart failure and other serious heart conditions that can lead to death.

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