Even though the heart is strong and powerful, it’s still susceptible to various problems that affect different aspects of its function. One of these problems is bradycardia. Chances are high you’ve already heard or read a thing or two about this condition. However, it’s important to learn as much as possible about this heart-related issue. Scroll down to see what bradycardia is and how to live with it.
What Is Bradycardia?
Bradycardia is a slower heart rate than normal. A person’s heart rate is determined by the number of beats per minute and a healthy rest heart rate has between 60 and 100.
Meanwhile, in a person with bradycardia, the heart beats slower than 60 times a minute.
To understand bradycardia, it’s important to know the underlying mechanisms that produce a normal heartbeat. It all starts with the sinus node, which produces the electrical signal that starts a heartbeat. The sinus node is the natural pacemaker found in the right atrium i.e. its upper part. From there, the electric signal moves to the atrioventricular (AV) node. This specific node is found between the atria. Then, the signal goes through heart muscle fibers to reach muscles and ventricles. When that happens, the ventricles contract, and a heartbeat are produced.
In physically active people, especially athletes, it’s normal to have bradycardia and it can be about 50 beats per minute.
That happens because a workout improves the pumping ability of the heart. In turn, it requires fewer contractions to provide blood to the body.
On the other hand, in people who aren’t physically active bradycardia represents a heart problem.
Bradycardia may be a serious abnormality of heart rate if the heart doesn’t pump a sufficient amount of oxygen-rich blood to meet the body’s needs.
What Causes Bradycardia?
Numerous causes can lead to this problem, including:
- Problems with the sinus node;
- Metabolic problems such as hypothyroidism;
- Issues in the heart’s conduction pathways that don’t allow electrical impulses to pass from atria to ventricles properly;
- Damage caused by heart disease or heart attack;
- Side effects of certain heart medications.
In addition, bradycardia can occur due to a congenital heart defect, myocarditis (infection of heart tissue). Also, due to a complication of heart surgery and imbalance of chemicals in the blood. Likewise obstructive sleep apnea, and inflammatory diseases such as lupus or rheumatic fever.
Who Is At Risk of Bradycardia?
The reality is that everyone can develop bradycardia. In fact, some people are more likely to have this heart rate abnormality than others. Common risk factors for the condition include:
- Advancing age;
- Heavy alcohol intake;
- Recreational drug use;
- Stress and/or anxiety;
Essentially, factors that can increase the risk of heart disease can also make you more likely to have a slow heart rate.
What Are the Symptoms of Bradycardia?
A slow heart rate can prevent the brain from getting sufficient blood flow. Many symptoms of the health problem are associated with this particular consequence of this condition. The most common signs and symptoms of this problem are:
- Chest pain;
- Fainting or near-fainting;
- Fatigue and/or weakness;
- Getting tired easily during physical activity;
- Lightheadedness and /or dizziness;
- Memory problems;
- Shortness of breath;
In extreme cases, cardiac arrest can occur due to bradycardia.
How Is Bradycardia Treated?
Occasional this condition usually doesn’t require treatment.
If you experience the abovementioned symptoms, you should schedule an appointment to see your doctor. This condition has several causes, and your doctor can order necessary tests to determine the nature of the problem. Healthcare provider also recommends the most suitable treatment option.
Treatment of the problem includes the following:
- Managing underlying cause e.g., hypothyroidism;
- Changing medications that caused bradycardia;
- Implanting a pacemaker to regulate the heart’s rhythm.
Living With Bradycardia
Bradycardia can be a serious problem, but you can reduce the risk of triggering symptoms by making certain lifestyle changes.
In fact, living with bradycardia is a lot easier when you modify your lifestyle and make healthier choices.
Below, you can see a useful thing to do if you have bradycardia:
- Maintain weight in a healthy range – excess weight increases the risk of cardiovascular problems;
- Exercise regularly – physical activity improves blood circulation and exhibits favorable effects on heart rate;
- Eat a heart-healthy – instead of junk food, you may want to consume fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and other foods that support heart function;
- Quit smoking – since smoking increases bradycardia risk, an important part of management strategy is to quit this unhealthy habit;
- Manage underlying conditions – if you have hypothyroidism or other problems that can cause bradycardia, you need to be proactive with their management;
- Keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control – healthy lifestyle adjustments can help you control them and thereby improve heart health and manage bradycardia;
- Avoid drinking – since too much alcohol is bad for your heart, you may want to avoid it entirely or reduce its consumption;
- Manage stress – mental stress and anxiety wreak havoc on physical health and may also contribute to bradycardia. Stress management methods are endless. It comes down to your preferences and what you find relaxing. Avoid ignoring stress and anxiety;
- Be careful with medications – avoid changing, increasing, or decreasing doses on your own. Always stick to the doctor’s recommendations;
- Monitor your heart health regularly – regular heart check allows you and your doctor to follow the development of the condition and come up with the most effective treatment plan. Although regular doctor visits are a must, you can easily monitor your heart on your own anywhere with personal heart health monitoring tools.
Bradycardia or slow heart rate is a common problem with potentially serious symptoms. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to avoid triggering symptoms and improve your quality of life. Making simple lifestyle adjustments is vital for men and women living with this condition.