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Bradycardia (Slow Heart Rate)

Bradycardia is a type of arrhythmia that causes a slow heart rate. When your heart beats too slowly, it can’t pump enough blood for your organs to work as they should. Bradycardia and its symptoms can affect your quality of life and even be life-threatening.

Arrhythmia specialists at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center in St. Louis are experts in managing bradycardia. We create a treatment plan that relieves your symptoms and protects your health. We lead the region in pacemaker implantation and management, one of the potential treatments.

What Is Bradycardia?

Bradycardia is a slow heart rate, usually fewer than 60 beats 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, treatment is essential. Your brain and other organs may not receive enough blood flow because of the slow heart rate.

Symptoms of Bradycardia

Signs of bradycardia may resemble those of other medical conditions. If you experience any symptoms, see a doctor for an expert diagnosis. Symptoms of bradycardia may include:

  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • fatigue
  • lightheadedness

Diagnosing Bradycardia

We begin a bradycardia diagnosis by asking you about your symptoms and medical history. You’ll also have a thorough physical examination. To learn more, we may order one or more diagnostic tests, including:

  • Portable monitor: A Holter monitor or event recorder allows us to collect data about your heart rhythms for 24 hours or longer. During the testing period, you’ll have electrodes on your chest. These electrodes connect to a small, portable device you carry in a pocket or wear around your neck.
  • Insertable cardiac monitor (ICM): An ICM is a small version of an implantable loop recorder. A surgeon places this tiny monitoring device below the skin in your chest. The device continuously monitors your heart’s electrical activity for up to three years. Many people find the ICM loop monitor is more comfortable and less obtrusive than versions we used just a few years ago.
  • Electrophysiology study: In our cardiac catheterization lab, we insert catheters (long, thin tubes) through your blood vessels to your heart. The procedure uses tiny incisions, like a needle poke. The study enables us to map the precise location of heart rhythm abnormalities. Learn more about cardiac electrophysiology.

Bradycardia Treatments

Your diagnostic testing results help your doctors choose the best approach for you. Sometimes, bradycardia doesn’t cause any symptoms or problems. If you are experiencing symptoms, we may recommend a pacemaker to treat the slow heart rate.

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 to treat complex medical conditions. Learn more about what distinguishes our care for arrhythmia and heart rhythm disorders.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University arrhythmia specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, call 314-747-1518.