Each time your heart beats, it is pumping blood throughout your body. An adult’s heart typically beats 60 to 100 times per minute, and if your heart beats less than 60 times a minute, you may have a condition called bradycardia (pronounced BRAY-dee-car-dee-ah). Bradycardia, also referred to as brachycardia (pronounced BRACK-e-car-dee-ah), is a slow heart beat. If severe, bradycardia can be life-threatening.
It’s important to note that, in some cases, it’s perfectly normal to experience a slower heartbeat. For example, when you are sleeping, your heart naturally slows down because it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood through your body at rest. Similarly, athletes may have bradycardia because they are in such good shape that their hearts work more efficiently and don’t have to pump as often to circulate the blood. An athlete may have a heart rate as slow as 30 and not experience any symptoms.
Bradycardia is classified as a type of cardiac arrhythmia (pronounced a-RITH-me-ah). The word cardiac refers to the heart, and the word arrhythmia means that the heart beat is outside of a normal range. Even though bradycardia is an abnormality in the heart, it is not treated unless you experience symptoms. Symptoms include:
Sometimes symptoms can be mild, and people often make the mistake of thinking that the symptoms are just part of the normal aging process. If you experience any of the above symptoms, see your doctor.
While more common in older patients, bradycardia can be experienced by people at any age, even infants.
Babies have a faster heart rate than adults. A heart rate of 80 to 140 is normal for full-term babies. Premature babies even have faster heart rates. A premature infant’s heart will typically beat 120 to 160 times a minute. As the babies mature, their heart rates slow down.
Low oxygen levels or apnea, a condition where a baby stops breathing momentarily during sleep, may cause a baby’s heart rate to abnormally slow down. While in the hospital, babies are monitored closely, and bradycardia will be diagnosed at that time. Doctors will treat the underlying condition, such as apnea, in order to cure the bradycardia. Most babies will be cured by the time they are ready to go home.