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What is Bradycardia - Slow Heartbeat? Print E-mail
Written by Mike Cohen   
Thursday, 08 October 2009
A slow heartbeat is called bradycardia and is defined as a heart rate that is slower than healthy levels. In most adults, the heart beats at least 60 times per minute. Faster, age-related heart rates are considered healthy in children.

What is going on in the body?

When a person is at rest, the heart normally beats at a rate that is within a fairly narrow range. This range is usually 60 to 100 beats per minute in adults and slightly faster in children. With certain conditions, however, the heart rate may decrease below a healthy range. When the heart beats lower than the healthy range, the body may not get all the blood it needs to work correctly. And this can affect a person's overall health and energy levels.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?

There are many possible causes of a slow heartbeat, including:
- arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats caused by problems such as heart attacks and salt imbalances
- certain medicines, such as atenolol and diltiazem, commonly used to treat high blood pressure, or digoxin, commonly used to treat congestive heart failure
- heroin overdose
- hypothyroidism, or a low level of thyroid hormone in the body
- serious head injuries or brain damage, which can lead to a condition called increased intracranial pressure
- shock, a serious condition in which there is poor blood circulation. If this is left untreated, it can result in death

Regular exercise can also result in a slow heartbeat. This happens because the exercise actually strengthens the heart to the point where it can beat less often and still perform its job effectively. In this case, the slow heartbeat is nothing to be concerned about.

Other causes are also possible. Sometimes no cause can be found.

What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment is directed at the cause. For example, a person with hypothyroidism is given thyroid hormone pills. Someone with arrhythmias may need a pacemaker, which is a device inserted under the skin to control the heart rate using electricity. A person with head injuries may need surgery or medicines to decrease the pressure inside the skull.
What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects are related to the treatments. For example, if the dose of thyroid medicine is too high, the person may develop a heart rate that is too fast. Insertion of a pacemaker requires minor surgery, which may result in bleeding or infections.
What happens after treatment for the condition?

What happens after treatment depends on the cause of the slow heart rate. A person who has a slow heartbeat because he or she is a good athlete needs no treatment. An individual taking thyroid or blood pressure medicines usually needs further monitoring and treatment for life. Someone with head injuries or brain damage may need help with regular activities.
 

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