Low Resting Heart Rate

The number of beats per minute (BPM) of your heart is your heart rate, and what's too slow for you may depend on your age and physical condition. Physically active adults and athletes often have a low resting heart rate, but it's not causing problems. Older people are more prone to issues with a slow heart rate. As people age, changes in the rate of their pulse may change and can signify a heart condition that needs to be addressed. Knowledge about your heart rate can help you monitor your fitness level, especially if you're not physically active, and it might even help you spot developing health problems.

What does It Mean to Have Low Resting Heart Rate?

For many people, a heart rate of 60 to 100 BPM while at rest is considered normal. However, your heart rate may fall below 60 BPM during deep sleep, but if your heart beats less than 60 times a minute during normal waking hours, it is slower than normal. Alternative names for this condition include:

  • Bradycardia
  • Pulse slow
  • Pulse rate decreased
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Slow pulse
  • Low heart rate
  • Heartbeats decreased
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Heart rate decreased

A low resting heart rate can be normal and healthy. Or it might indicate a problem with the heart's electrical system.

  • A resting heart rate slower than 60 BPM might be normal for some people, particularly for trained athletes and healthy young adults. Bradycardia isn't considered a health problem for these people.
  • With other people, bradycardia is sometimes a result of something that disrupts the normal electrical impulses that controls the rate of your heart's pumping action. With severe forms of bradycardia, the heart may beat so slowly that it does not pump enough blood to meet the needs of your body, and can be life-threatening.
  • The elderly, those age 65 and older, are more likely to develop a slow heart rate that may need treatment. As we age, the heart's electrical system sometimes doesn't function normally.

When a Low Resting Heart Rate Is Serious

In certain situations, a slow heart rate might indicate a medical emergency. The following symptoms can be serious and life threatening:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • General weakness
  • Left arm pain
  • Pain in jaw
  • Severe headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness, disorientation and confusion
  • Passing out, fainting, or loss of consciousness
  • Blindness or visual changes
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin color), or pallor (pale skin)

If you have any of these symptoms and a change in your heart rate, call 911.

Why does It Happen?

If you have low resting heart rate, you may present such symptoms as dizziness, weakness, difficulty exercising or walking, fatigue, shortness of breath, lack of energy or fainting spells. As for the reasons why it happens, the following may give you some clues:

  • Changes in the heart muscle that result from aging
  • Diseases that may damage the heart's electrical system. These include infections such as myocarditis and endocarditis, heart attack, and coronary artery disease
  • Certain conditions that may slow electrical impulses through the heart, such as having an electrolyte imbalance, too much potassium in the blood, or a low thyroid level (hypothyroidism)
  • Some medicines for treating high blood pressure, or heart problems, such as anti-arrhythmic, beta-blocker, or digoxin medications

How Can It Be Treated?

How bradycardia is treated depends on the type of electrical conduction problem, and treatment will depend on the symptoms. If low resting heart rate doesn't cause any symptoms, it typically isn't treated. Treatment goals are to raise the heart rate so your body gets the blood and oxygen that it needs. Severe bradycardia can be fatal if it isn't treated.Treatments for bradycardia could include:

1. Adjusting Medications

Any number of medications can cause bradycardia, including some to treat other heart conditions. Your physician will check what medications you're taking and might recommend alternative treatments. Lowering dosages or changing drugs can correct problems with a slow heart rate. However, if you cannot stop taking that medicine or make adjustments, you may need a pacemaker.

2.  A Pacemaker

If damage in the heart's electrical system results in a low resting heart rate, you will most likely need to have a pacemaker. A pacemaker monitors the heart rate and generates electrical impulses when necessary to maintain an appropriate heart rate. People who are older than 65 are more likely to have a type of bradycardia that may require a pacemaker.

3.  Treating Other Medical Problems

If other medical problems, such as a mineral (electrolyte) imbalance or hypothyroidism, are causing a slower heart rate, treating that medical issue might cure the bradycardia. Hypothyroidism, is an underactive thyroid gland that makes too little thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones affect your heart rate, and the amount of blood pumped by your heart.

Living with a Low Heart Rate

A low resting heart rate is often the result of another heart condition, so taking proactive steps to have a heart-healthy lifestyle will normally improve your overall health. Some steps you can take:

  • Have a healthy dietary plan that includes whole grains, low-fat or non-fat dairy foods, fish, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Stay physically active, on many, if not all the days of the week. Consult with your doctor about what level of exercise will be safe for you.
  • Lose some weight if you are overweight.
  • Don't smoke, or if you already smoke, quit smoking.
  • Manage any high blood pressure or high cholesterol you may have.
  • Follow your doctor's recommended treatment plan and seek emergency help if you have any symptoms of a heart attack, you fainted, or have severe shortness of breath. If your symptoms worsen or if you develop any new symptoms, tell your physician immediately.
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