London Medical Cardiology

Bradycardia

London Medical’s Cardiology Clinic provides the most up-to-date investigative cardiac procedures for patients with heart problems – and some of the UK’s most renowned cardiologists hold clinics here for all aspects of heart disease.

Bradycardia affects your heart’s rhythm and can impact your health significantly. 

Unlike tachycardia which speeds up your heart rate, with bradycardia, your heart beats slower than usual, particularly at rest. You don’t always need to worry about a lower heart rate, but you should see your doctor if you have persistent bradycardia symptoms. Understanding bradycardia and how it affects your heart is essential when managing cardiovascular health (the health of your heart and blood vessels).

What is bradycardia?

Bradycardia is an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) where your heart beats slower than it should when resting. The average heart rate for an adult is between 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). However, with bradycardia, your heart rate can drop below 60 bpm while resting and even lower when sleeping. 

Bradycardia happens when your heart’s electrical system becomes disrupted. This system generates and conducts electrical signals to regulate your heart rate. These electrical signals coordinate the heart chambers’ contractions so they can pump blood throughout your body. However, when your heart rate decreases, your heart may not be able to pump the amount of blood needed to meet your body’s demands.

It can be dangerous if your heart can’t pump blood effectively for a long time. However, most people experience bradycardia without any harmful effects. 

Bradycardia is more common in adults over 65 and happens less in children unless they are born with certain health conditions that cause it. 

If you are extremely physically active, you may experience bradycardia. But it won’t impact your health because your body can still pump blood efficiently, despite beating slower than usual.

Symptoms of bradycardia

Some people do not experience symptoms when they have bradycardia, especially when physically active. However, if your heart can’t pump blood effectively and you get bradycardia, you can develop accompanying symptoms.

Bradycardia symptoms can include: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain 
  • Angina
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Memory problems
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty concentrating

Memory problems or difficulty concentrating can come about because bradycardia restricts the amount of blood to the brain, affecting its function.

Causes of bradycardia

The many potential causes of bradycardia mean testing is essential to rule out or treat underlying health conditions. 

Bradycardia typically begins in the sinus node, a cluster of cells in your heart that regulate your heartbeat. A disrupted sinus node can completely change the rhythm and rate of your heartbeat. 

Heart block, or atrioventricular block, is where your heart’s electrical signals can’t move from the upper to the lower chambers. This leads to bradycardia and will get worse. 

Other causes of bradycardia can include: 

  • Electrolyte deficiencies – not getting enough electrolytes such as calcium and magnesium can cause a slow heart rate
  • Inflammation
  • Infections – some infections like strep throat can damage your heart if left untreated
  • Certain medications – calcium channel blockers and specific antidepressants can lead to bradycardia
  • Heart surgery – valve repair and replacement can cause a lower heart rate
  • Radiation therapy
  • Heart attacks and heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart problems
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Injuries or trauma to your chest or heart
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Sleep apnoea 
  • Athletic training – if you train like an athlete, you may develop a lower resting heart rate because your cardiovascular system is so fit

Bradycardia itself is not contagious. However, some of the conditions that cause it — such as strep throat and other infections — can be.

Bradycardia tests

Bradycardia, like many heart conditions, can be tested in various ways. The following are our usual diagnostic tests for bradycardia: 

  • Electrocardiogram – a non-invasive test to check your heart’s electrical activity over a short period. We place electrodes on your chest, arms and legs to measure your heart’s electrical signals. The results will provide valuable information about the rhythm, rate and any abnormalities of your heart. 
  • Echocardiogram (ECG) – this test uses an ultrasound scan to assess your heart’s structure and function.
  • Holter monitor – if your bradycardia only occurs during certain activities or is intermittent, we may use a Holter monitor. You’ll wear this portable ECG device for a time, such as 24 or 48 hours. The monitor will continuously record your heart’s electrical activity so we can assess for any abnormalities. 
  • Exercise stress test – we use this test to evaluate your heart rate during physical activity. We may ask you to walk or run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while having your heart rate monitored.
  • Blood tests – these can help determine underlying conditions causing your bradycardia, such as electrolyte imbalances or signs of infection.

Bradycardia treatment

The type of treatment right for you will depend on the cause of your bradycardia. 

For example, medication might be the best solution if conditions like hypothyroidism or electrolyte imbalances cause your bradycardia. It will also depend on your bradycardia’s severity and how much it impacts your health. 

If you are experiencing severe symptoms, we may fit a pacemaker. This is a small device a surgeon inserts under the skin and regulates your heartbeat through electrical impulses. Pacemakers only work when needed, so they will only send electrical impulses if your heart begins to beat too slowly. 

Sometimes, we recommend lifestyle changes as an effective treatment. Lifestyle adjustments such as maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise may help alleviate your symptoms. 

Get in touch with London Medical

Bradycardia can give you symptoms such as dizziness and difficulty concentrating, but we can support you with the proper treatment. 

If you are experiencing bradycardia symptoms, contact our caring team at London Medical. We will guide you through the diagnostic testing and carefully explain what your results mean while creating a personalised treatment plan. 

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Our Cardiology specialties

We offer care across a broad range of cardiology specialties. We have some of the top specialists in every aspect of cardiac care. Our entire team is dedicated to working together to consider the results of your investigations, your health and your lifestyle before tailoring a treatment plan to your individual needs.

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