Having bradycardia (say
"bray-dee-KAR-dee-uh") means that your heart beats very slowly. For most people, a
heart rate of 60 to 100 beats a minute while at rest is considered normal. If
your heart beats less than 60 times a minute, it is slower than normal.
A slow heart rate can be normal and healthy. Or it could be a sign of a problem with the heart's electrical system.
For some people, a slow heart rate does not cause any problems. It can be a sign of being very fit. Healthy young adults and athletes often have heart
rates of less than 60 beats a minute.
In other people, bradycardia
is a sign of a problem with the
heart's electrical system. It means that the heart's natural pacemaker isn't
working right or that the electrical pathways of the heart are disrupted. In
severe forms of bradycardia, the heart beats so slowly that it doesn't pump
enough blood to meet the body's needs. This can cause symptoms and can be life-threatening.
Men and women age 65 and older are most likely to develop a
slow heart rate that needs treatment. As a person
ages, the electrical system of the heart often doesn't function normally.
Bradycardia can be caused
A very slow heart rate may
cause you to:
Some people don't have symptoms, or their symptoms are so
mild that they think they are just part of getting older.
find out how fast your heart is beating by
taking your pulse. If your heartbeat is slow or uneven, talk to your
Your doctor may take your pulse to diagnose bradycardia. Your doctor might also do a physical exam, ask questions about
your past health, and do an
electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG measures the
electrical signals that control heart rhythm.
Bradycardia often comes and goes, so a standard
EKG done in the doctor's office may not find it. An EKG can identify
bradycardia only if you are actually having it during the test.
You may need to use a portable (ambulatory) electrocardiogram. This
lightweight device is also called a Holter monitor or a cardiac event monitor.
You wear the monitor for a day or more, and it records your heart rhythm while
you go about your daily routine.
You may also have blood tests to
find out if another problem is causing your slow heart rate.
How bradycardia is treated
depends on what is causing it. Treatment also depends on the symptoms. If
bradycardia doesn't cause symptoms, it usually isn't treated.
The goal of treatment is to raise your heart rate so your
body gets the blood it needs. If severe bradycardia isn't treated, it can lead
to serious problems. These may include fainting and injuries from fainting, as
seizures or even death.
Bradycardia is often the result of another heart condition, so taking
steps to improve your heart health will usually improve your overall health.
The best steps you can take are to:
Get emergency help if you fainted or if you have chest pains or have severe shortness of breath. Call your doctor right away if your heart rate is slower than usual, you feel like you might pass out, or you notice increased shortness of breath.
Most people who get pacemakers lead normal, active lives. You will need to avoid things that have strong magnetic and electrical fields. These can keep your device from working right.
But most electronic equipment and appliances are safe to use.
Your doctor will check your pacemaker regularly. Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms that could mean your device isn't working right, such as:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about bradycardia:
Living with bradycardia:
Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on
physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your
nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information
about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a
nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and
provide information and support.
CardioSmart is an online education and support program that can be your partner in heart health. This website engages, informs, and empowers people to take part in their own care and to work well with their health care teams. It has tools and resources to help you prevent, treat, and/or manage heart diseases.
You can set health and wellness goals and track your progress with online tools. You can track your weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, and activity. You can use calculators to help you find your body mass index (BMI) and check your risk for heart problems. You can search for a cardiologist. And you can find medicine information and prepare for your next appointment. Also, you can join online communities to connect with peers and take heart-healthy challenges.
CardioSmart was designed by cardiovascular professionals at the American College of Cardiology, a nonprofit medical society. Members include doctors, nurses, and surgeons.
The Heart Rhythm Society provides information for
patients and the public about heart rhythm problems. The website includes a
section that focuses on patient information. This information includes causes,
prevention, tests, treatment, and patient stories about heart rhythm problems.
You can use the Find a Specialist section of the website to search for a heart
rhythm specialist practicing in your area.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing
Other Works Consulted
Akoum NW, et al. (2008). Pacemaker therapy. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 1, chap. 7. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
Epstein AE, et al. (2013). 2012 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused update incorporated into the ACCF/AHA/HRS 2008 guidelines for device-based therapy of cardiac rhythm abnormalities. Circulation, 127(3): e283–e352.
Olgin JE, Zipes DP (2012). Specific arrhythmias: Diagnosis and treatment. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 771–824. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Vijayaraman P, Ellenbogen KA (2011). Bradyarrhythmias and pacemakers. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's The Heart, 13th ed., pp. 1025–1057. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.
Wolbrette DL, Naccarelli GV (2007). Bradycardias:
Sinus nodal dysfunction and atrioventricular conduction disturbances. In EJ
Topol et al., eds., Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine,
3rd ed., pp. 1038–1049. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and
June 12, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
& Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
We are happy to take your appointment request over the phone, or, you may fill out an online request form.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.