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Bradycardia - a Slow Heart Rate

Our heart’s functioning is built upon its ability to send electrical impulses from the natural pacemaker (sinoatrial node) and conduct them from the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to the lower (ventricles). If any of the stages of this process are disrupted, it leads to an improper heartbeat, or arrhythmia. A fast heartbeat is known as tachycardia and an abnormally slow heartbeat is called bradycardia.

American Heart Association defines bradycardia as a type of arrhythmia characterized by a heart rate of less than 60 beats per minute (BPM). It is considered normal for physically active young people and athletes to have a low resting heart rate, and our heart may beat more slowly while we are asleep. However, as we age, our body tends to slow down overall, thus, making elderly people more prone to bradycardia.

There are outstanding examples of extremely low but healthy resting heart rate, the record being 26 BPM registered in 2014 and belonging to an extremely fit 81-year-old who exercises daily. Such cases are not unique, but they are always the result of exceptional determination to sports, so unless you are a keen athlete, it is highly advisable to be awake to this condition.

Bradycardia may occur for a number of reasons and is in most cases acquired through age rather than being innate. It is primarily associated with problems with the heart’s electrical system. That usually means that either the heart’s natural pacemaker does not send signals properly, or they are not conducted further into the lower chambers of the heart. Regardless of the exact mechanism, what happens is that the heart does not maintain sufficient blood flow to the brain, causing the following symptoms:

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • shortness of breath
  • getting tired easily even without strenuous exercise.

If a person experiences only occasional short episodes of bradycardia, no treatment is normally required. On the other hand, if the condition manifests itself in frequent and prolonged spells, it may lead to fainting, heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest. It is, therefore, essential to consult a doctor should any of the symptoms bother your regularly. Currently the condition is treated through usage of an artificial pacemaker to speed up the heart rhythm as needed.

It goes without saying that averting is easier than tackling the consequences, and, fortunately, a number of things can be done to address the issues that are most commonly associated with damage to heart tissues (high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol and drug consumption, stress or anxiety). Exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet and weight and keeping unhealthy habits in hand will raise your chances of alleviating the condition or avoiding it altogether.

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