Slow Heart Beat: Treating Heart Rhythm Problems

6 min read

Heart rhythm problems affect many Americans, and one in five American deaths in the year 2020 were due to heart disease. Bradycardia is a specific type of heart rhythm disorder where the heart beats slowly.

Treating heart rhythm problems is possible, but doing so requires recognizing the issue, diagnosing its cause, and formulating a plan to restore a normal rhythm. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about treating slow heart rhythms.

What Is a Slow Heart Beat?

Generally, when someone’s heart beats fewer than 60 times per minute, it qualifies as bradycardia. However, there are exceptions, as elite athletes may have a lower resting heart rate, and some people may have a heart rate of less than 60 while they’re sleeping.

So, each person’s heart health is considered when evaluating someone for bradycardia. For example, if you’re a young, fit marathon runner, your heart rate can easily peak at over 170 beats per minute while exercising but then drop to less than 60 beats while resting.

Conversely, if you have a very low heart rate even while exercising and symptoms of bradycardia, you need to seek treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of Bradycardia?

The symptoms of a slow heart rate vary from person to person. But, in general, any of the following can indicate bradycardia:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks of living
  • Weakness, especially when performing any sort of exercise
  • Syncope (passing out)
  • Chest pain

What Causes a Slow Heartbeat?

The body’s electrical system regulates the rate at which the heart beats. A series of nodes have a role in pacing the heart’s rhythm, and most types of bradycardia stem from a problem related to the impulses coming from those nodes.

A typical, healthy heart has four chambers. The atria sit at the top of the heart, and the ventricles sit at the bottom. Inside the upper right chamber, or the right atrium, lies the sinus node. This bundle of cells acts as the primary regulator of the heart’s rhythm. You might consider it our natural pacemaker, as each impulse from the sinus node triggers a beat of our heart.

Dysfunction of the sinus node, its impulses, or how they travel through the heart tissue often underlie bradycardic conditions and other heart rhythm disorders.

Sinus Node Issues

When the sinus node doesn’t regulate the heart’s rhythm properly, a person may experience bradycardia. They may also experience a condition where their heart rate varies between bradycardia and tachycardia. This alternating pattern of slow and rapid heart rates is named bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome.

Atrioventricular Block (Heart Block)

When the sinus node’s signals don’t travel appropriately from the atria to the ventricles, it may also cause bradycardia.

There are three main types of heart block:

First Degree Heart Block

This is the less serious variant of heart block. The signals located in the atria get to the ventricles, but they do so slowly. Most people with this condition don’t realize they have it, as symptoms never manifest. They also usually do not require treatment.

Second Degree Heart Block

Second-degree atrioventricular block means that not all of the signals pass from the atria to the ventricles. Since some impulses never reach their destination, the heart beats slowly and irregularly.

Third Degree Heart Block

Third-degree heart block is the most severe type of atrioventricular block. This means that the atrial impulses don’t reach the ventricles at all. This severely compromises a person’s heart rate. However, since the heart has some backup nodes, the ventricles usually continue to beat, but at a much slower rate than ideal.

Bradycardia Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for bradycardia and other rhythm disorders. Most forms of heart disease can increase the risk of bradycardia. Heart disease risk factors include

  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • The use of illicit drugs
  • Stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Old age
  • Hereditary disease

Prevention and Treatment of Bradycardia

Bradycardia is not something you can always prevent. But you can lower your risk of heart disease by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

If you are diagnosed with slow heart rhythms and you have mild symptoms, your healthcare provider may only monitor your condition. If you develop persistent symptoms, your physician may recommend a few different remedies.

First, there are some medications used to treat other conditions that may slow the rate of your heart. If you already regularly take prescribed medications, your doctor may alter your prescriptions or dosages to try and restore a normal heart rate.

In most cases, a monitoring period will follow a diagnosis of bradycardia. There are various types of electronic monitors that can keep track of your heart rate. Some, like a Holter monitor, can even record and transmit data so that you can monitor your arrhythmia over time and in various conditions.

In addition, you will likely receive an EKG, which is a non-invasive procedure that records the electrical activity in your heart.

In many cases, an EKG can help reveal the source of the dysrhythmia. Medications are the first line of attack, and they alone may restore a normal rhythm and prevent bradycardia. If medications alone don’t work, your doctor may recommend implanting a pacemaker.

A pacemaker is a small medical device that monitors your heart rate and provides powerful impulses that override the erratic signals from your heart, helping to maintain a healthy rhythm.

Finally, if there is a serious issue that other remedies cannot cure, your physician may recommend more advanced procedures, including

  • Cardioversion
  • Ablation
  • Surgery

Slow Heart Beat: Bottom Line

Modern medicine helps us understand what causes most bouts of arrhythmia. Heart disease is the most consistent contributing factor to arrhythmic conditions.

Bradycardia, or slow heart rhythms, can have no symptoms or mild to major symptoms. So, it’s important to follow the process of diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment.

Along with your doctor, you can formulate a plan to treat heart rhythm problems. If you or a loved one suspect you have a slow heartbeat, seek treatment for bradycardia today.

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