Bradycardia refers to a heart rate that is slower than normal, typically defined as less than 60 beats per minute. While a slow heart rate may be a sign of excellent physical fitness in some individuals, in others, it may indicate an underlying medical condition. When bradycardia is accompanied by symptoms, it is referred to as symptomatic bradycardia.
Symptomatic bradycardia occurs when the heart rate is so slow that it cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for symptomatic bradycardia.
Causes of symptomatic bradycardia
Symptomatic bradycardia can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of the most common causes include:
Aging: As people age, the natural pacemaker cells in the heart can begin to deteriorate, leading to a slower heart rate.
Medications: Certain medications, such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and antiarrhythmic drugs, can slow down the heart rate.
Heart disease: Conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, and cardiomyopathy can all lead to bradycardia.
Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid gland can lead to a slow heart rate.
Infections: Certain infections, such as Lyme disease, can affect the heart’s electrical system and lead to bradycardia.
Congenital heart defects: Some people are born with structural abnormalities in their hearts that can lead to bradycardia.
Symptoms of symptomatic bradycardia
Symptoms of symptomatic bradycardia can vary depending on the severity of the condition. In some cases, people may not experience any symptoms at all. However, when symptoms do occur, they can include:
Fatigue: When the heart rate is too slow, the body may not receive enough oxygen, leading to fatigue.
Shortness of breath: As the heart struggles to pump enough blood, the lungs may not receive enough oxygen, leading to shortness of breath.
Dizziness: A slow heart rate can lead to a drop in blood pressure, which can cause dizziness or lightheadedness.
Fainting: In severe cases, a slow heart rate can cause fainting or syncope.
Chest pain: In some cases, bradycardia can cause chest pain, particularly if it is accompanied by other heart-related conditions such as angina.
Confusion: When the brain does not receive enough oxygen, confusion or disorientation can occur.
Diagnosis of symptomatic bradycardia
If you are experiencing symptoms of bradycardia, your doctor may perform a variety of tests to determine the cause and severity of the condition. These tests may include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG): An ECG is a non-invasive test that records the electrical activity of the heart. This test can help determine if there are any abnormalities in the heart’s rhythm.
Holter monitor: A Holter monitor is a portable ECG device that you wear for a day or two to record your heart’s rhythm. This test can help your doctor determine if your heart rate is consistently slow.
Event recorder: An event recorder is a device that you wear for a longer period of time, typically up to a month. This test records your heart’s rhythm when you experience symptoms of bradycardia.