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When to Worry About a Slow Heart Rate

Nov 9, 2021

When to Worry About a Slow Heart Rate

Normally our hearts beat somewhere between 60 and 100 times a minute. This is considered healthy for the average person while resting. If our heart rate drops below 60 beats a minute, this condition is called bradycardia.

A slow heartbeat isn't always a concern. For example, a resting heart rate between 40 and 60 beats a minute is quite common during sleep and in some people, particularly healthy young adults, and trained athletes. For instance, when I was 23 years old and training to do triathlons, my resting heart rate was often in the low 30’s. This is an example when bradycardia is very healthy. With a slower heart rate, this allows more time for the heart muscle to rest.

The key factor in a slow heart rate is whether the heart can pump a sufficient amount of oxygen-rich blood while beating slower than is considered normal. When we become concerned is when the heart rate is so slow as to not deliver sufficient oxygen-rich blood to our body.

A slower than normal heartbeat can prevent the brain and other organs from getting enough oxygen, possibly causing these signs and symptoms:

  • Chest pain, especially upon minor exertion such as climbing a flight of stairs
  • Confusion or memory problems
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Easily tiring during physical activity
  • Unexplained fatigue, even with sufficient rest
  • Fainting (syncope), near fainting or periods of loss of balance
  • Shortness of breath, especially when no physical exertion has been done

If we check our heart rate and it is below 60 beats per minute at rest, however, we experience none of the symptoms listed above, we probably don’t need to see a doctor right away.

When we should see a doctor is when we experience some of these signs or symptoms in mild or moderate severity. While some of these symptoms may just be a part of growing older, it is not something to ignore. If a loved one or older friend mentions feeling these symptoms, it is time to call their doctor right away.

The chances of experiencing bradycardia increase as we get older, though that is true of most heart conditions. The causes of bradycardia can vary greatly from one person to the next. Some common causes of a slow heartrate are:

  1. Certain medications, such as those to treat high blood pressure or abnormal heartbeats.
  2. Congenital heart defect or problem we have had since birth.
  3. Thyroid disease leading to an imbalance in hormones in the body.
  4. Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where our breathing pauses many times during the night.

Bradycardia can be a difficult diagnosis for doctors, it is not always present all the time. Our heart can go in and out of slow rhythms.

The best advice, if we are concerned with abnormally slow heart rate, is to talk to our doctor about having an EKG (electrocardiogram). This is a diagnostic test to measure our heart’s electrical system.

If the EKG looks normal, but we have had symptoms of bradycardia, the next step is to wear a heart monitor for a period of time. The heart monitor will show any periods of abnormally slow heartbeat and start the process of determining the cause.

Words of caution here – do not ignore unexplained slow heart rate or signs and symptoms of bradycardia. Better to have things checked out and determine any underlying problems. Be Blessed.

Category: Dr. Sterling