Home Health Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate): Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate): Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

The heart is the organ that is known to be responsible for pumping out oxygenated blood to the entire system as well as help in returning deoxygenated blood to the lungs for oxygenation.

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The heart is a vital organ, and if there is any problem with it, it will affect every organ of the body. The heart pumps out blood to the systemic circulation, and as it does this, there is a heart heat attached.

The rate at which your heart pumps out blood is equal to the number of times your heart beats in a particular minute. One way by which you can measure how well your heart works is by taking note of your heart rate.

Once your heart rate increases more than the normal range, it signifies that you may have a problem known as tachycardia, and when it is slower than usual, then the patient can be said to be dealing with bradycardia.

In other words, bradycardia simply means a slower than usual heart rate. The average heart rate is 60 beats per minute for an adult or a child at rest. Anything slower than this, the patient will be said to experience bradycardia.

Typically, your heartbeat is meant to be healthy and regular. Any irregularity in your heartbeat is a pointer to an underlying disease. However, in some cases, a slower than normal heartbeat, otherwise known as bradycardia is not an indication of any disease.

In fact, for some specific people, it is normal. For example, as seen in athletes. They are seen to usually have bradycardia. This is because their heart doesn’t have to do much work trying to pump blood through the entire body, and as such, their hearts are strong and steady.

What should you know about your heart?

There are a few things everyone is encouraged to know about their health and their overall body system. The heart has four chambers, which are two atria and two ventricles. The atria are at the top while the ventricles are located just beneath the atria.

The heart has a natural pacemaker, which is known as the sinus node, which is found within the right atrium. What the pacemaker does is to produce and regulate the electrical impulses that are responsible for the heart rhythm.

Once these impulses are produced in the right atrium, they spread across to the left atrium causing the atria to contract at the same time, and as a result, pumping blood into the ventricles.

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At the ventricles, there is a cluster of cells known as the atrioventricular(AV) node. The impulses that travel across the atria will then get to the ventricles at the AV node and pass through another group of cells called the bundle of HIS.

The cells of the bundle of HIS will, in turn, transmit the impulses down its left and right branches serving the ventricles, which will cause the ventricles to contract to pump out blood. The right ventricle pumps out deoxygenated blood into the lungs while the left ventricle pumps out oxygen-rich blood into the body’s circulation.

Electrical impulses travel through these chambers, causing the heart to beat in a steady rhythmic fashion. With each heartbeat comes to the pumping out of the blood, and as such, the stronger the heartbeat, the more considerable the amount of blood pumped out of the heart.

Asides bradycardia, sometimes, the impulses that pass through the heart can become irregular, causing arrhythmias to occur. It is important to note that in some cases, people who have bradycardia may not always notice it.

Causes of Bradycardia

Underlying conditions

Often, bradycardia is a symptom of an underlying condition. Hence, bradycardia can be as a result of the following conditions

  1. Damage of the heart tissue as a result of aging
  2. Deterioration of the muscles of the heart as a result of a heart attack or heart disease.
  3. A heart defect that has been present even at birth (also known as congenital heart defect).
  4. Infection of the heart muscle also known as myocarditis
  5. Complications of heart surgery can lead to bradycardia.
  6. An under functional thyroid gland, also known as hypogonadism.
  7. An imbalance of electrolytes especially sodium and potassium in the blood
  8. Obstructive sleep panda which is characterized by severe and repeated disruptions of a person’s breathing pattern while he or she is asleep
  9. Some inflammatory diseases such as lupus, rheumatic fever and so on can cause bradycardia to occur
  10. Some medications that are used to treat other heart disorders, psychosis, as well as high blood pressure can cause bradycardia to occur.

Problems within the Sinoatrial node or the pacemaker cells

Bradycardia can also be as a result of problems within the cells of the Sinoatrial node. Bradycardia most times often originate from the Sinoatrial node. If the Sinoatrial node has the following issues, a slower than normal heart rate will occur:

  1. If the Sinoatrial node dispenses electrical impulses at a pace, that is slower than normal.
  2. If the Sinoatrial nodal cells pauses talk less of failing to disseminate the impulses
  3. When it fails to discharge the electrical impulses and, as a result, cause the blockage before the atria begin to contract.

Blockage of the ventricles

Bradycardia can also be a result of a blockage in either the ventricles, the atrium, or both. This occurs mostly when the impulses that are produced in the atrium aren’t transmitted into the ventricles.

Once this happens, the patient is said to experience a heart block or an atrioventricular block.

There are three main types of heart block, and they are dependent on the extent or to what degree the impulses transmitted from the atria can get into the ventricles. In the order of their severity, they are:

1. First-degree heart block

First-degree heart block often occurs as a result of the slowing or narrowing down of the transmission of impulses from the atria to the ventricles. First-degree heart block is the mildest of all the three forms of heart block.

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Often, the first-degree block doesn’t need any form of treatment as they usually resolve themselves. It also may not pose any problems once there is no abnormality in the conduction of electrical impulses.

2. Second-degree heart block

Second-degree heart block occurs when not all the impulses generated are transmitted. Some impulses are dropped along the line of transmission.

As such, it will cause both irregular heartbeats and also the slowing down of the heartbeat resulting in both arrhythmia and bradycardia, respectively.

3. Third-degree heart block

Third-degree heart block is also known as complete heart block. This occurs when none of the impulses generated in the atria reaches the ventricles. When this happens, the natural pacemaker cells take over.

However, the impulses generated by the natural pacemaker cells are slow, unreliable, and sometimes can’t control the beating of the heart, and as a result, bradycardia can occur.

Symptoms of bradycardia

Once a patient is having bradycardia, the patient will most likely not receive enough oxygenated blood supply around the body, and as such, some areas will suffer. These regions that are affected will cause the following symptoms:

  1. Syncope: which is otherwise known as the near-fainting or the fainting syndrome
  2. Dizziness
  3. Lightheadedness
  4. Confusion, problems recalling events and eventual memory loss
  5. Intense fatigue.
  6. Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing.
  7. Severe chest pains
  8. The patient will get quickly tired, even after very little physical activity.

Risk Factors

There are some risk factors that are associated with bradycardia, and they include

1. Age

Any heart-related problems almost always come with age. The older you get, the weaker most of your organs become, especially your heart. The chances of one developing bradycardia also increase with age.

2. High blood pressure

High blood pressure indicates that the heart struggles to pump blood through the arteries, and as a result, there is increased pressure within the arterial walls. Once the heart muscle weakens due to the sustained increase of pressure, there will be bradycardia.

3. Smoking

Smoking causes the muscles to get weak by depriving it of oxygen. Remember, your heart is a muscle as well, and it needs oxygen. Once oxygen is depleted, it will decrease the functionality of the heart muscle leading to bradycardia.

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4. Heavy alcohol use

Alcohol contains some harmful substances which weaken both the heart walls as well as the arterial walls. Hence, prolonged heavy alcohol drinking will cause bradycardia.

5. The use of recreational drugs

The heavy use of recreational drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, and other recreational drugs will decrease the functionality of the heart and slow down the heartbeat causing bradycardia.

6. Psychological stress and intense anxiety

Mental strain and increased anxiety will cause the impulses in the heart to become erratic and, as such, can lead to defects such as arrhythmias and bradycardia.

Prevention

Since it has been discovered that bradycardia is often associated with heart problems, the best way to prevent bradycardia is to avoid any heart disease. The following are the best ways to prevent heart disease:

1. Maintain a healthy diet

A healthy diet that is filled with vegetables, whole grains, and fruits will help increase the levels of antioxidants in the blood, and this will help strengthen the heart.

2. Live a healthy lifestyle

Exercising every day helps to improve the strength levels present within the heart muscle. If you are scared of doing the strenuous exercises, simple exercises such as walking, muscle stretching, and a little bit of jogging can do the trick.

3. Maintain your blood cholesterol and blood pressure

Once you frequently exercise, eat a healthy diet, live a healthy lifestyle, then you can maintain your blood pressure and cholesterol, hence preventing hypertension.

If you already have high blood pressure, then it is imperative that you use your drugs consistently. Doing all these will reduce your chances of bradycardia.

4. Don’t smoke

Smoking will cause oxygen depletion in your blood and as well increase your CO levels. Your body cells need more oxygen than carbon monoxide.

5. Reduce your drinking

It is not advisable that you keep taking alcohol. But if you must, then you have to take it in moderation. For a healthy adult(women of all ages and men above 65), one drink a day is enough. Men who are 65 and below can still manage two drinks a day but must not go beyond this.

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6. Never use recreational drugs

Using recreational drugs will only fast track your chances of developing heart issues as well as bradycardia.

7. Manage your stress levels

Though it may be impossible to avoid stress altogether, especially if you are in a high-level stress zone, you can decide to manage your response to stress. Stress is a part of life, so you must learn to cope with it. Avoid any unnecessary stress addition.

8. Always try to rest

Rest is something that we can’t afford to avoid. Even with your tight schedules, make out time to rest. You will be better for it.

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker

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