It is known that our bodies tend to slow down as we age, but what if the same happens to our hearts? Low or slow heart rate, also known as bradycardia, is a phenomenon that is more likely to occur in older adults caused by the occasional and normal wear and tear on the heart’s electrical system that slows down its normal rhythm.
Low heart rate happens when your heart is only at a maximum of 60 bpm (beats per minute) and below, even when you are awake and active. In contrast, the normal range for when you are fully conscious is 60 to 100 bpm. There is a chance you have a slower heart rate yet experience no symptoms, and there is typically nothing to worry about if that is the case. However, if you feel something off yet ignore it, it can often lead to bigger problems. These symptoms include:
- Low stamina and feelings of lethargy
- Heart palpitations or flutters
- Memory problems and confusion
- Chest pains
If you experience these symptoms and have an associated low heart rate, visit the nearest healthcare provider immediately.
Whether you have symptoms or not, knowing the signs of trouble when you have a low heart rate is recommended since bradycardia requires treatment in some cases. For instance, if your heart drops to 30 bpm or lower, you are not getting enough oxygen in your brain, potentially causing shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and fainting. Blood could also pool in the chambers of your heart and cause congestive heart failure.
Does age or activity affect low heart rate ranges?
For younger people, athletes, and people who regularly exercise, experiencing a low heart rate below 60 bpm while working is healthy and completely normal. Being physically active allows your heart to pump blood more efficiently. The same applies when you sleep at night as it is natural to have a slower heart rate of 40 to 60 bpm since your body is not doing much to require an elevated heart rate.
Causes of low heart rate
A lot of factors can bring down your heart rate than usual, and these include:
1. Certain illnesses or health conditions
Some health conditions can bring about bradycardia, namely:
- Low thyroid function
- Electrolyte imbalance in the body
- Heart muscle inflammation
- Bacterial blood infection that attacks the heart
- Heart attacks caused by coronary artery disease
- Antiarrhythmics, beta-blockers, and other certain medications
- Diabetes, chronic hypertension, or congenital heart defects
Getting older is the most common risk factor for a low heart rate, with the condition typically developing among people over 65 years old.
3. Heart malfunctions
Another common cause of bradycardia is when there is a malfunction in your sinus node, the heart’s natural pacemaker. This part controls the speed at which the top and bottom heart chambers circulate blood throughout the body.
4. AV block
Bradycardia can also stem from an atrioventricular block (AV block) wherein the upper and lower heart chambers do not communicate well, causing the heart rate to drop.
When to consult your doctor about low heart rate
If you have concerns about your low heart rate, check with your physician to better determine its root cause. They will first review your daily activities, followed by a physical exam. In some cases, they may measure your heart’s electrical signals with an electrocardiogram (EKG) to accurately verify if they are firing correctly. Should your healthcare provider deem it necessary, they may require you to wear a 24-hour monitor to better view your heart’s performance over time.
Upon deciding whether your case requires treatment, they will try to rule out pre-existing conditions or medications as possible causes. Changing your prescribed medicine or similar strategies is often all it takes to solve the issue. Otherwise, undergoing minimally invasive surgery to implant a pacemaker will be necessary to quicken your heart rate.
In most cases, bradycardia does not call for an emergency, which gives doctors time to choose the right treatment course should it be necessary. They can then evaluate each patient’s situation and exclude if any other condition is causing it. If you are ever concerned about your low heart rate, get an online medical consultation with a certified doctor in just a few clicks with the MYCLNQ app. Contact us today to learn more about the medical services you can access on your phone!
Reference: Cleveland Clinic