How is bradycardia diagnosed?
Your doctor may be
able to diagnose bradycardia by doing a physical exam, asking questions about
your past health, and doing an
electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG measures the
electrical signals that control heart rhythm.
But bradycardia often comes and goes, so a standard
EKG done in the doctor’s office may not find it. An EKG can identify
bradycardia only if you are actually having it during the test.
You may need to use a portable (ambulatory) electrocardiogram. This
lightweight device is also called a Holter monitor or a cardiac event monitor.
You wear the monitor for a day or more, and it records your heart rhythm while
you go about your daily routine.
You may also have blood tests to
find out if another problem is causing your slow heart rate.
How is it treated?
How bradycardia is treated
depends on what is causing it. Treatment also depends on the symptoms. If
bradycardia doesn't cause symptoms, it usually isn't treated.
- If damage to the heart’s electrical system
causes your heart to beat too slowly, you will probably need to have a
pacemaker. A pacemaker is a device placed under your
skin that helps correct the slow heart rate. People older than 65 are most
likely to have a type of bradycardia that requires a pacemaker.
another medical problem, such as hypothyroidism or an electrolyte imbalance, is
causing a slow heart rate, treating that problem may cure the bradycardia.
- If a medicine is causing your heart to beat too slowly, your
doctor may adjust the dose or prescribe a different medicine. If you cannot
stop taking that medicine, you may need a pacemaker.
The goal of treatment is to raise your heart rate so your
body gets the blood it needs. If severe bradycardia isn't treated, it can lead
to serious problems. These may include fainting and injuries from fainting, as
seizures or even death.
What can you do at home for bradycardia?
Bradycardia is often the result of another heart condition, so taking
steps to improve your heart health will usually improve your overall health.
The best steps you can take are to:
- Control your cholesterol and blood
- Eat a low-fat, low-salt diet.
- Get regular
exercise. Your doctor can tell you what level of exercise is safe for you.
- Quit smoking, if you smoke.
Get emergency help if you fainted or if you have chest pains or have severe shortness of breath. Call your doctor right away if your heart rate is slower than usual, you feel like you might pass out, or you notice increased shortness of breath.
People who get pacemakers need to be careful around
strong magnetic or electrical fields, such as MRI machines or magnetic wands
used at airports. If you get a pacemaker, your doctor will give you information
about the type you have and what precautions to take.
For example, call your doctor right away if you have symptoms that could mean your device isn't working right, such as:
- Your heartbeat is very fast or slow, skipping, or fluttering.
- You feel dizzy, lightheaded, or like you might faint.
- You have shortness of breath that is new or getting worse.