Our heartbeat is one of our most essential biomarkers. One of the most significant statements to the significance of this bodily function is its recognition world over as one of the principal medical markers for the presence of life.
However, the importance of your heartbeat extends beyond acting as a notification that you are still alive.
The heartbeat is a rhythmic contraction of the cardiac muscles. These muscles then control the pumping of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood around your body. Consequently, the rate of your heartbeats can be a direct measure of the function and overall health of the organ.
Furthermore, in the multifaceted and interconnected system that is the body, a variance in heart rate levels can be an indicator for a host of conditions, including the adrenaline rush from exercise or fear, hormonal imbalances, psychological issues, or other underlying medical problems.
With heart rate, when you are at rest, less is often always better. Generally, a lower resting heart rate indicates that the organ is performing more efficiently than average. Lower heart rates are usually standard among well-trained athletes and people with high cardiovascular fitness levels.
A lower rate implies that your heart does not have to overexert itself to provide the rest of your body with the minimum required amount of oxygenated blood.
However, in rare cases, a lower heart rate may be cause for concern. Sometimes low heart rate levels may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. When should you worry?
What is Low Heart Rate (Bradycardia)
The medical definition of bradycardia is a heart rate that is slower than 60 beats per minute (BPM.)
Note: According to the American Heart Association, for a healthy person, your heart rate should fall between a range of 60-100 beats per minute (BPM) when you are resting.
However, for most people, the figure should be closer to 60 than 100, as a score of 90 or above is still a mild cause for concern. Heart rate scores that are slightly lower than the 60 BPM low point are typically acceptable too.
In most cases, however, bradycardia is rarely ever a cause for concern. Plus, what your general practitioner will consider too low varies depending on factors like your physical conditions and your age.
Furthermore, with heart rate, lower is better, and it is quite common for healthy people to post sub-60 BPM scores. Nevertheless, when you get to the sub-50 range, things can get quite iffy as a heart rate that low can stem from a host of other underlying conditions.
So, should you worry about a low heart rate reading? It depends. It depends on the underlying factor that is causing the attenuation of your BPM.
Potential Causes of Low Heart Rate
Generally, a slower heart rate when you are at rest is a sign of good health. Bradycardia can result from several positive or neutral causes that shouldn’t warrant any worry. Some of these include:
- High fitness levels
- Playing tasking sports often
- The impact of regular meditative breathing
- A genetic predisposition for a slower heart rate
- The side effect of beta-blockers and other heart-related medications
However, in other cases, bradycardia may stem from other severe, more worrying, and potentially more harmful causes like:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- A congenital heart defect
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Hypothyroidism and other hormonal and metabolic problems
- Heart attacks
- Sick sinus syndrome, congestive cardiomyopathy, node damage, and other forms of heart disease
In all of these severe cases above, a low heart rate is a cause for concern, as it can signal potentially dangerous or even fatal conditions that require immediate attention. So, how can you tell whether your low heart rate stems from a positive, unthreatening source or a more critical, potentially life-threatening condition?
The key is to watch out for the symptoms.
When To Worry About Low Heart Rate?
In most situations, a low heart rate shouldn’t scare you. In reality, it often means you are doing something right with your physical or mental health.
However, if you have bradycardia in conjunction with other alarming symptoms, you are right to be worried, and you should take steps to seek help immediately.
When you have this form of low heart rate, a significant cause for concern is that, due to other underlying conditions, your heart is not pumping enough blood to the rest of the body to meet your organs and tissues’ requirements. If true, this can be a potentially dangerous situation.
Some of the accompanying symptoms for this form of bradycardia include:
What to Do
If you notice any of the previous section symptoms while having a low heart rate, you should visit your general practitioner immediately.
If it is one of the more severe symptoms like lightheadedness, shortness of breath, fainting, or temporary blindness, you should consider calling 911 for help instead.
Besides asking about your symptoms, your doctor may take your pulse or do an electrocardiogram scan to measure the electrical signals in your heart and check for potential problems.
In some cases, your low heart rate may occur intermittently, and you may need to wear a portable cardiac event monitor for a day or two to help the doctor make a proper diagnosis.
Once your general practitioner figures out the problem’s source, he will recommend the best steps for tackling the underlying condition. Your doctor may endorse a treatment plan, suggest you stop certain medications or refer you to a specialist.
In rare cases, bradycardia may be an indicator signaling the malfunction of the heart’s electrical system.
The flow of blood from the heart is controlled by a series of electrical pathways through which neural charges pass to stimulate various sections of the heart, causing the contraction of muscles and, consequently, blood movement.
When this system falters, the heart’s function is disrupted, and as a result, your heart rate may lower, and the flow of blood to the rest of the body reduces.
This problem can be time-sensitive and potentially life-threatening. Hence, your doctor may recommend a pacemaker insertion to help regularize your heartbeat and the blood flow from the organ.
In this case, a surgeon will take over to carry out the procedure. A pacemaker is a small electronic device that sits inside your chest and connects to your heart with thin, flexible wires to help regulate the electrical charges that control the heart’s pumping and beating when they malfunction.