Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate) 

Bradycardia is characterized by an abnormally slow heart rate (below 60 beats per minute). Under some circumstances, this can be normal and even desirable. For example, many people have a slow heartbeat while they’re sleeping, and it’s also normal for athletes and elderly individuals to have a slow heartbeat while they’re sitting or lying down. But if bradycardia is accompanied by certain symptoms, it can constitute an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) that requires treatment.

Causes of Bradycardia

Bradycardia has a number of potential causes, including:

  • A problem with the nodes in the heart that regulate electrical impulses or any of the electrical pathways within the heart
  • Damage to the heart caused by a heart attack
  • Inflammation within the heart
  • Valvular heart disease
  • A congenital heart defect
  • Low thyroid function
  • Lyme disease
  • An electrolyte imbalance
  • Sleep apnea

Some individuals also experience bradycardia following a medical procedure or while taking beta blockers or heart rhythm medication.

Symptoms of Bradycardia

Bradycardia can be accompanied by some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

Diagnosing Bradycardia

If a physician suspects bradycardia, the patient will likely undergo a physical examination and an electrocardiogram (EKG). In some cases, the patient will also need to wear an event monitor to track his or her heart rate and rhythm over an extended amount of time.

Treatment for Bradycardia

Not all cases of bradycardia require treatment. When treatment is necessary, many individuals benefit from having a pacemaker implanted. This device monitors heart rate and rhythm and, when necessary, sends out an electrical impulse to restore the heartbeat to a normal rate. The specialists at Tampa General Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute can develop a comprehensive treatment plan that’s customized to a patient’s specific needs.