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Home > Health Library > Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate)
Having bradycardia (say "bray-dee-KAR-dee-uh") means that your heart beats very slowly. For most people, a heart rate of 60 to 100 beats a minute while at rest is considered normal. If your heart beats less than 60 times a minute, it is slower than normal.
A slow heart rate can be normal and healthy. Or it could be a sign of a problem with the heart's electrical system.
For some people, a slow heart rate does not cause any problems. It can be a sign of being very fit. Healthy young adults and athletes often have heart rates of less than 60 beats a minute.
In other people, bradycardia is a sign of a problem with the heart's electrical system. It means that the heart's natural pacemaker isn't working right or that the electrical pathways of the heart are disrupted. In severe forms of bradycardia, the heart beats so slowly that it doesn't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. This can cause symptoms and can be life-threatening.
Men and women age 65 and older are most likely to develop a slow heart rate that needs treatment. As a person ages, the electrical system of the heart often doesn't function normally.
Bradycardia can be caused by:
A very slow heart rate may cause you to:
Some people don't have symptoms, or their symptoms are so mild that they think they are just part of getting older.
You can find out how fast your heart is beating by taking your pulse. If your heartbeat is slow or uneven, talk to your doctor.
Your doctor may take your pulse to diagnose bradycardia. Your doctor might also do a physical exam, ask questions about your past health, and do an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG measures the electrical signals that control heart rhythm.
Bradycardia often comes and goes, so a standard EKG done in the doctor's office may not find it. An EKG can identify bradycardia only if you are actually having it during the test.
You may need to use a portable (ambulatory) electrocardiogram. This lightweight device is also called a Holter monitor or a cardiac event monitor. You wear the monitor for a day or more, and it records your heart rhythm while you go about your daily routine.
You may also have blood tests to find out if another problem is causing your slow heart rate.
How bradycardia is treated depends on what is causing it. Treatment also depends on the symptoms. If bradycardia doesn't cause symptoms, it usually isn't treated.
The goal of treatment is to raise your heart rate so your body gets the blood it needs. If severe bradycardia isn't treated, it can lead to serious problems. These may include fainting and injuries from fainting, as well as seizures or even death.
Bradycardia is often the result of another heart condition, so taking steps to live a heart-healthy lifestyle will usually improve your overall health. The steps include:
Get emergency help if you fainted or if you have symptoms of a heart attack or have severe shortness of breath. Call your doctor right away if your heart rate is slower than usual, you feel like you might pass out, or you notice increased shortness of breath.
Most people who get pacemakers lead normal, active lives. You will need to avoid things that have strong magnetic and electrical fields. These can keep your device from working right. But most electronic equipment and appliances are safe to use.
Your doctor will check your pacemaker regularly. Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms that could mean your device isn't working right, such as:
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Other Works Consulted
Epstein AE, et al. (2013). 2012 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused update incorporated into the ACCF/AHA/HRS 2008 guidelines for device-based therapy of cardiac rhythm abnormalities. Circulation, 127(3): e283-e352.
Olgin JE, Zipes DP (2015). Specific arrhythmias: Diagnosis and treatment. In DL Mann et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 10th ed., vol. 1, pp. 748-797. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Vijayaraman P, Ellenbogen KA (2011). Bradyarrhythmias and pacemakers. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's The Heart, 13th ed., pp. 1025-1057. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.
Wolbrette DL, Naccarelli GV (2007). Bradycardias: Sinus nodal dysfunction and atrioventricular conduction disturbances. In EJ Topol et al., eds., Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 3rd ed., pp. 1038-1049. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJohn M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Current as ofDecember 6, 2017
Current as of:
December 6, 2017
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & John M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
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