Your heart will typically beat between 60-100 times each minute when you are at rest. Bradycardia refers to a heart rate that is below 60 beats per minute. In most cases bradycardia does not cause complications or symptoms, but this can be a serious condition because a low pulse rate means the heart is not pumping an adequate supply of oxygen rich blood to the rest of the body. There are several treatments including the implantation of a pace maker that can help to correct this condition if necessary.
Symptoms and Complications of Low Pulse Rate
When the organs and brain are not getting the oxygen content they need from the blood it can cause weakness, near-fainting, fainting, fatigue, dizziness, chest pains, shortness of breath, tiring easily during physical activity, memory problems and confusion.
The severity of complications from bradycardia will vary based on how low the pulse rate of the body is and what is causing the conduction problem in the body. Potential complications include heart failure, frequent fainting spells, sudden cardiac arrest or sudden death.
Causes of Low Pulse Rate
- Heart’s Electrical Problems. The sinus node acts as a natural pacemaker that controls the rhythm of the heart with electrical impulses. These pulses cross the atria which will cause the atria to start pumping blood in the ventricles. Then the impulses reach the atrioventricular node where a signal is transmitted to a cell bundle known as the bundle of His, transmitting a signal down to branches to the left and right ventricles, causing them to contract and pump. The left ventricle will pump oxygen to the body and the right ventricle will pump blood into the lungs to receive more oxygen. If the signals that control these impulses are disrupted it may lead to a low pulse rate.
- Sinus Node Problems. If the signals from the sinus node pause, fail to discharge at a regular rate, discharge slower than normal or are blocked before they can make contact with the atria it can cause the pulse rate to alternate between fast and slow rhythms.
- Heart Block. If something is blocking signals throughout any portion of the electrical pathway throughout the heart it can damage your body’s ability to maintain a normal pulse rate. A first degree block refers to a block between the atria and ventricles, which rarely causes symptoms and often does not require treatment. Second degree blocks prevent all signals from reaching the ventricles, causing some beats to be dropped or causing an irregular heart rhythm. A third degree block causes all impulses from the atria to fail to meet the ventricles, causing the bundle of His or other tissues to act as a separate pacemaker within the heart. This may cause unreliable signals and slow heartbeat. Bundle branch blocks interrupt the electrical signals in the left or right bundle branches. The severity of this block will vary based on whether or not both branches are affected and if another block is present.
Risk Factors of Low Pulse Rate
- Age. Low pulse rate and the associated complications are significantly more likely in older adults.
- Risks of Heart Disease. Damage age from heart disease will increase your risk of developing low pulse rate. Smoking, high cholesterol, using illegal drugs, high blood pressure, heavy alcohol use and psychological stress or anxiety can all contribute to these conditions.
Treatments for Low Pulse Rate
- Cure Underlying Diseases. Underlying disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or hypothyroidism may cause low pulse rate and will need to be treated for these symptoms to disappear.
- Change Drugs. Some medications, including those for heart conditions, can cause you to develop a low pulse rate. Your doctor should check your medications and recommend alternatives or lower doses that could prevent these symptoms. If it is not possible to alter your medications it may be necessary to implement a pacemaker.
- Use Pacemaker. A pacemaker is a cellphone sized device that is operated with a battery. It is inserted underneath the collarbone and wires with electrodes thread through your veins and into the heart to generate impulses to control your heart rate. Most models can also record information about your heart for your doctor to use to determine what future treatment will be necessary to prevent bradycardia symptoms.
Preventions of Low Pulse Rate
Prevent Heart Disease
- Do Exercise and Eat Proper Diet. Following a heart healthy lifestyle with plenty of low-fat foods, vegetables, fruit and whole grains followed by plenty of exercise will help prevent heart disease.
- Keep a Healthy Weight. Those that are overweight are at a much higher risk for heart disease.
- Control Blood Pressure and Cholesterol. Adjusting your lifestyle and using medication can help you relieve high cholesterol and hypertension that can increase your risk of heart disease.
- Quit Smoking. Working to quit smoking on your own or using a treatment plan from your doctor will significantly decrease your risk of heart problems.
- Limit Alcohol Intake. Drinking alcohol in moderation or eliminating alcohol from your diet can improve your heart health. If you are having trouble controlling your alcohol intake you can work with your doctor to join an alcohol management program.
- Avoid Illegal Drugs. Your doctor can help you find a program that will help you quit using illegal drugs that could be impacting your overall health.
- Manage Your Stress. Avoiding stressors and learning techniques to help you cope with stress in a healthy way can help you maintain your heart health.
- Check Regularly. Visiting your doctor for regular exams and reporting any symptoms to your doctor as soon as possible to help keep your heart health in check.
Treat Current Heart Problems
- Follow Prescription. Talk with your doctor to make sure you understand your treatment plan and follow all instructions you have been given to ensure that your treatment goes as planned.
- Report Changes. If you notice a change in your symptoms, new symptoms or your symptoms becoming worse, contact your doctor as soon as possible.