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Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate)

Bradycardia is a type of arrhythmia that causes a slow heart rate. We often think of a slow pulse as a sign of good health and cardiovascular fitness. However, a particularly slow pulse can feel uncomfortable or even threaten your life.

Arrhythmia specialists at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center create a treatment plan that meets your needs, protects your health and relieves you of symptoms. We are regional experts in pacemaker implantation and management, one of the potential treatments.

Learn more about what distinguishes our care for arrhythmia and heart rhythm disorders.

What is Bradycardia?

Bradycardia is characterized by the heart beating fewer than 60 times per minute. It occurs when the electrical system controlling your heart rhythm slows down or becomes blocked. For some people, bradycardia may not cause any problems. You may not even need treatment.

However, if the bradycardia is prolonged or happens repeatedly, it is important to receive treatment. The slow heart rate can cause insufficient blood flow to your brain and other organs.

Symptoms of Bradycardia

Symptoms of bradycardia may resemble those of other medical conditions. If you experience any symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for an expert diagnosis.

Symptoms of bradycardia may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting

Diagnosing Bradycardia

We begin diagnosing the condition by asking you about your symptoms and medical history. We also perform a thorough physical examination. We may then order one or more diagnostic tests:

  • Portable monitor: A Holter monitor or event recorder allows us to collect data about your heart rhythms for a 24-hour period or longer. We place electrodes on your chest, attached to a small, portable device. You wear the monitor around your neck or place it in your pocket.
  • Insertable cardiac monitor: We insert a monitoring device below the skin in your chest. It provides continuous monitoring of your heart’s electrical activity.
  • Electrophysiology study: We insert catheters (long, thin tubes) through your blood vessels to your heart. We are able to map the precise location of the heart rhythm abnormalities.

Bradycardia Treatments

Sometimes, bradycardia causes no symptoms or complications. However, if you are experiencing symptoms, we may recommend a pacemaker to treat the bradycardia. A pacemaker sits under your skin, near your heart. When it detects a slow heart rhythm, it sends a signal to speed up the heartbeat.

Our electrophysiologists are experts in pacemaker implantation, treating patients with complex medical conditions. Learn more about our approach to pacemaker and ICD implants.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University arrhythmia specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.