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What is bradycardia?

            Bradycardia is the term used to describe abnormally slow heart rhythms. The normal heart rhythm is called normal sinus rhythm because it originates in an area of the heart called the sinus node.  The normal rate for this rhythm is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.  When the heart is beating more slowly than 60 beats per minutes, the patient is said to have bradycardia.  For some patients, the fact that their heart rate is slow may be completely normal.  This situation is commonly seen in athletes.  For other patients, it may be the result of a serious problem with the heart.


What are the signs and symptoms of bradycardia?

            Patients with bradycardia can experience a variety of symptoms including feelings of fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or even fainting.       


What are the causes of bradycardia?
            Bradycardia can have a variety of causes including medications, infections such as Lyme disease, low thyroid levels, or simply aging of the heart’s electrical system.    


How can bradycardia be evaluated?
            Evaluation of bradycardia begins with a review of the patient’s medicines.  Testing may be required for the evaluation of bradycardia and this testing may include an electrocardiogram, a holter monitor, a loop monitor, or an electrophysiology study. Additional testing may include blood work and occasionally a stress test.


How can bradycardia be treated?
Treatment of bradycardia is directed toward the underlying cause. An example would be the adjustment of a patient’s medicines if that were causing the bradycardia.  In those cases, the underlying cause cannot be identified or treated.  In these situations, a pacemaker may be recommended, especially if the bradycardia is causing symptoms.

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