What Exactly Is Bradycardia

Heart Disease - What Exactly is Bradycardia?

bradycardia - hear icon

Our bodies usually run like a well-oiled machine, but it can be very frightening when things aren’t working as well as they usually do.

Arming ourselves with enough information as possible helps to alleviate stress which in turn can often alleviate physical symptoms. This post will take an in-depth look into bradycardia and its treatment.

How Does the Heart Work?

bradycardia - heart rate

The heart is a fascinating organ. It pumps blood around the body, through the circulatory system, while supplying nutrients and oxygen to the body tissues. It weighs between 10-12 ounces for males and 8-10 ounces for females, and its roughly the same size as your fist.

The heart consists of four chambers. The heart is also halved lengthwise into the right heart and the left heart and has a muscle called the septum in the middle to separate the two parts.

The pericardium is the sac that protects the heart, and this is divided into an outer layer (the parietal pericardium) and the inner layer (the serous pericardium). Pericardial fluid runs between the inner and outer layers and lubricates the heart throughout its beats.

A person’s heart beats between 60 to 100 times per minute when they’re resting. If you heart beats less than 60 per minute, it may be a symptom of Bradycardia. The condition occurs when the electrical impulses that move around the four chambers of the heart malfunction.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Bradycardia?

It’s important that you consult a medical professional if you think you are showing signs of Bradycardia, or any other heart condition. Brady cardia is not usually dangerous, however, it can be symptomatic of other conditions.

Symptoms of bradycardia include:

  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Concentration problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • If you’re experiencing chest pain, you should visit the Emergency Room immediately. Many people who are extremely fit regularly experience a lowered heart rate but if this is unusual for you, you should consult a Doctor.


    bradycardia - doctor looking down

    Like most heart conditions, the simple process of ageing increases your risk of getting bradycardia. High blood pressure is another cause, along with smoking and drug abuse.

    People who have experienced heart surgery or heart attacks can also develop the condition.

    Medications that are prescribed for high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and abnormal heartbeats can sometimes cause bradycardia.

    Other causes can include thyroid disease, hormone imbalances, and obstructive sleep apnea. In some cases, a congenital birth defect may be the cause of bradycardia.

    What Is Sinus Bradycardia?

    bradycardia - doctors checking blood pressure of a patient

    Sinus bradycardia is a relatively common condition that occurs when electrical impulses in the sinus node are firing at a reduced rate. The sinus node is a nest of tiny cells that are located at the top of the right atrium.

    Sinus bradycardia is not always dangerous. If you’re a sportsperson or someone who regularly participates in exercise a lowered heart rate may not be a sign of any problems. This lowered heart rate can also occur when people are sleeping.

    Sinus bradycardia only becomes a problem if the heart rate is lowered to the point that the rest of the body cannot function properly. If the condition appears to come and go periodically, it is usually caused by stimulation of the vagus nerve.

    Stimulation of the vagus nerve causes the sinus node to slow down. Vagus nerve problems are often caused by gastrointestinal problems such as nausea or vomiting. However, this can also happen in response to sudden emotional distress or acute pain. The heart rate will return to normal when the vagus nerve does.

    Sinus bradycardia that does not come and go is usually caused by disease of the sinus node. This condition often occurs with age and is due to scarring in the sinus node itself.

    What Is Heart Block?

    bradycardia - heart black and white color

    Heart block is a condition that occurs when an electrical signal in the atria doesn’t travel as far as the ventricles properly. This means that for every two contractions in the atria, only one contraction occurs in the ventricles.

    Risk factors for heart block include certain medications, Lye disease, exposure to some toxins and a previous heart attack or heart disease.

    Diagnosing Bradycardia

    bradycardia - hear injection

    Bradycardia can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms aren’t always present. If your medical team suspects you might have bradycardia they will refer you for an electrocardiogram. However, this will only show results if your heartrate is low at the time of the examination.

    Your Doctor may suggest that you wear a monitor for 48 hours. This will enable them to see how often symptoms are occurring and under what circumstances. The Doctor will also consider any other symptoms you may have and will take a closer look at your family medical history.

    The Treatment for Bradycardia

    bradycardia - smiley face hear icon

    Your medical team will base their treatment plan on the cause of your bradycardia and not just focus on alleviating your symptoms. If the condition is caused by hyperthyroidism, for example, treating that condition may alleviate the symptoms of bradycardia.

    Hyperthyroidism is a condition that develops when the thyroid gland produces too much of the hormones tetraiodothyronine (T4) and/or triiodothyronine (T3). This slows down your metabolic rate and makes it difficult to lose or maintain body weight.

    If medication has caused bradycardia to develop, your Doctor may recommend a different medication to treat the original problem. In particular, medications to reduce high blood pressure can be problematic.

    These can include, but are not limited to, metoprolol (Toprol-XL), atenolol (Tenormin), verapamil (Calan, Ispotin, Verelan), opranolol (Inderal), diltiazem (Cardizem, Dilacor-XR), and sotalol (betaspace). If you are taking any of these medications and have concerns that you might have bradycardia, your Doctor will be able to advise you further.

    In severe cases, bradycardia can be treated by having a pacemaker inserted through surgery. This is when a small device is put into the chest which carries small electrical charges. These charges keep the heart pumping at a steady rate.

    How to Avoid Developing Bradycardia

    bradycardia - heart logo with women running

    As previously mentioned, the ageing process is often a cause of bradycardia. We cannot stop that process but there are some things we can do that will lower your risk or incidence of bradycardia.

    Improving your heart health in general will lower your risk of developing bradycardia and other heart conditions. Leading a healthy lifestyle will help. Quitting cigarette smoking will not only help your heart but will lower your risk of developing certain forms of cancer.

    Maintaining a varied diet with a focus on lowering cholesterol is a good idea. This means eating a low-salt, low-fat diet and maintaining a healthy body weight and size.

    Taking steps to keep your blood pressure in a normal range is also important. This can be done naturally or with help from medication.

    Exercise in an important element in staying healthy, but it can also become difficult as we age. Speak to your doctor about what type of exercise is appropriate for our fitness level, age, and overall health condition.

    Can Bradycardia Be Cured?

    bradycardia - heart logo with a person behind

    If the cause of your bradycardia is determined as originating from another condition, then curing that first condition may eliminate your symptoms. However, this will still put at risk of developing bradycardia again.

    The important thing to remember is that bradycardia is not dangerous, but symptoms should not be ignored. It’s normal for your resting heart rate to slow to as little as 40 beats per minute when you are sleeping. However, a heart rate that is regularly under 40 beats per minute, particularly when active, can often lead to fainting, heart disease, or stroke.

    If you’re displaying any of the symptoms of bradycardia and are unsure whether you should see a Doctor, our advice is to make an appointment for a checkup. Symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, fainting, or shortness of breath can occur with several conditions and not all may be associated with your heart.

    You should always consult medical professionals if you experience chest pain, with or without numbness and tingling down the arms. A sudden onset of nausea or vomiting with no apparent cause must also be checked out immediately, particularly if it is accompanied by clamminess of the skin, sweating, or severe indigestion.

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