Bradycardia represents a condition in which the heart rate is too slow. What exactly that means can be very different between those of varying ages and conditioning. For example, high-level athletes may have extremely low resting heart rates. However, for the rest of us, Bradycardia typically applies when the heart rate drops below 60 beats per minute. There are, of course, times when your heart rate may fall below that number naturally – typically during times of extreme relaxation such as sleeping and meditation.
What Causes Bradycardia
There are several causes and risk factors of Bradycardia. Of course, as we mentioned above, age plays a significant role, as does physical conditioning. Other causes may include:
Damage from cardiovascular disease or a prior heart attack
- Certain medications
- Metabolic disease
- SA node issues that may be genetic or age-related
- Problems with the electrical pathways from the upper chambers of the heart to the lower
Signs & Symptoms of Bradycardia
Typically, Bradycardia is relatively easy to diagnose either at your primary care physician’s office or with your cardiologist. Even wearable technology can help with the diagnosis. Typically, Bradycardia will be caught early as it often accompanies the following symptoms that indicate not enough blood is reaching the brain:
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulty catching your breath
- In some rare cases, a heart attack may occur
How We Treat Bradycardia
While the symptoms may not seem scary, the complications and considerations of Bradycardia are significant. Patients can suffer from high or low blood pressure, angina or chest pain, fainting spells, syncope, and long-term heart failure. Of course, these conditions can also lead to problems such as falls or accidents. As such, significant and long-lasting Bradycardia typically requires treatment. If the slow heartbeat is occasional or paroxysmal, it is often followed by your cardiologist or electrophysiologist with the understanding that if it worsens, treatment may be necessary.
The definitive treatment for Bradycardia is the pacemaker. The pacemaker monitors the heart and gives it an extra boost to ensure that the heartbeat remains at appropriate levels. Pacemaker technology has improved dramatically in the past decade. There are now leadless pacemakers implanted into a ventricle and do not require wires while offering all the benefits of a traditional pacemaker.
More recently, conduction system pacing has arisen. This technique allows the electrophysiologist to recruit the patient’s natural “heart wiring,” preventing pacemaker-related complications such as pacing-induced heart failure.