Every individual’s heart rate is slightly different. In fact, your heart rate will vary throughout the day and based on your emotional and physical circumstances. However, at rest, the typical adult heart will beat at between 60 and 100 BPM or beats per minute. That said, it is not abnormal to have a BPM reading lower than 60 during your sleep. It is also worth noting that some healthy young adults and high-performance athletes may have a significantly lower resting heart rate than what is considered normal.
The diagnosis of Bradycardia is made when, accounting for these variables, the resting heart rate is too low. Bradycardia is very treatable but can be a concern if symptoms become severe and are left untreated.
The Causes of Bradycardia
Bradycardia can be caused by several modifiable and non-modifiable factors. Typically, however, bradycardia is caused by damage to the heart from aging, heart disease, inflammation, heart surgery, or medication. Bradycardia can also have a congenital (at birth) or genetic cause. Vitamin, mineral and hormonal imbalances in the body can also change the heart rate.
Prevention of bradycardia is not always possible, however general improvements in overall health also translate to improvements in cardiovascular health and can make a big difference in improving a slow heartbeat.
The Symptoms of Bradycardia
Symptoms and signs of bradycardia will vary between patients and the list below is neither comprehensive nor does having these symptoms offer a definitive diagnosis of the condition. A number of cardiovascular issues have overlapping symptoms and only a qualified physician, cardiologist or electrophysiologist can offer a proper diagnosis. The most common symptoms of bradycardia include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Confusion and brain fog
And other symptoms associated with too little oxygen getting to the heart or brain.
Your primary care physician is typically the first doctor to assess a slow heartbeat. However, many patients are diagnosed with bradycardia in the emergency room after a fainting spell or significant chest discomfort. An EKG is the first line in checking for a slow heartbeat. If the slow heartbeat is not persistent and only occurs on occasion, a Holter monitor or event recorder can be used to monitor the heart rate over the longer term. Stress tests and sleep studies can be employed to learn more about the potential causes of bradycardia.
Treatment for bradycardia will largely depend on the patient’s current medical situation. Severe symptoms may require more significant intervention early on. However, we try to take a stepwise treatment approach toward the condition that starts with lifestyle improvements. This will include stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol, managing stress, eating healthier and exercising more frequently.
Alongside lifestyle change, it is important to evaluate the patient’s cardiovascular medication which can contribute to bradycardia. Sometimes, adjusting medications for other cardiovascular disorders can improve or resolve bradycardia.
If the above options have failed to give the patient significant improvement, the definitive solution for bradycardia is a pacemaker. A pacemaker is a small battery-operated device implanted under the skin with electrical leads running to the heart. Pacemakers monitor the heart and fire electrical signals to ensure a normal heartrate. Pacemakers are implanted minimally invasively, and Dr. Banker offers both traditional pacemakers and leadless pacemakers (placed directly into a ventricle).
Those suffering from bradycardia or unexplained symptoms should see an electrophysiologist as soon as possible to understand what the potential causes may be, reduce the risk of a serious complication and ultimately improve their lifestyle through proper treatment.