Bradycardia is the medical term often used to describe a slow heart rhythm. In a slow arrythmia, the heart signals do not fire as they should causing the heart rate to slow down. The condition may be caused by heart disease, aging, myocardial ischemia (reduced blood flow to heart muscle), conduction disorders (impulses travel through the heart in a different way), stress, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, diet pills, or cough and cold medicines. Sometimes it may not be clear why there is an arrhythmia.
Heart block is a specific type of bradycardia in which the electrical signals from the atria (top chambers of the heart) to the ventricle (lower chambers of the heart) may be delayed in some way or completely stopped.
People with a slow heart rate may feel their heart skip a beat sometimes. Most patients feel dizzy, faint, or very tired. Some patients may even feel short of breath or nauseous. Check with your doctor if
- you have any of these symptoms
- the symptoms have begun recently
- or if you have been previously diagnosed with a slow arrythmia and are experiencing a change in your symptoms
People who experience serious symptoms from arrhythmias will need medical treatment to keep their heartbeat regular. If left untreated, bradycardia can be life threatening.
Diagnosis & Treatment
A history and physical examination by your doctor is likely the first step in the diagnosis of bradycardia. An EKG and review of your symptoms provides the doctor with important information. Additional tests, such as an electrophysiology study, may also be ordered. You may be the first person to know that something has changed because of how you feel. Or you may not have felt any change, yet the tests and examination showed an arrythmia.
Slow arrythmias are often treated with a pacemaker. Pacemakers detect when the heart beats too slowly or misses beats and then sends electrical impulses to correct the heart rate as needed.