Bradycardia, as applied in adult medicine, is defined as a heart rate of under 60 beats per minute, though it is seldom symptomatic until the rate drops below 50 beat/min . It is also less commonly known as brachycardia. Trained athletes tend to have slow resting heart rates, and resting bradycardia in athletes should not be considered abnormal if the individual has no symptoms associated it.
The term relative bradycardia is used to explain a heart rate that, while not technically below 60 beats per minute, is considered too slow for the individual's current medical condition.
This cardiac arrhythmia can be underlied by several causes, which are best divided into cardiac and non-cardiac causes. Non-cardiac causes are usually secondary, and can involve drug use or abuse; metabolic or endocrine issues, especially in the thyroid; an electrolyte imbalance; neurologic factors; autonomic reflexes; situational factors such as prolonged bed rest; and autoimmunity. Cardiac causes include acute or chronic ischemic heart disease, vascular heart disease, valvular heart disease, or degenerative primary electrical disease. Ultimately, the causes act by three mechanisms: depressed automaticity of the heart, conduction block, or escape pacemakers and rhythms.
There are generally two types of problems that result in bradycardias: disorders of the sinus node, and disorders of the atrioventricular node (AV node).
With sinus node dysfunction (sometimes called sick sinus syndrome), there may be disordered automaticity or impaired conduction of the impulse from the sinus node into the surrounding atrial tissue (an "exit block"). It is difficult and sometimes impossible to assign a mechanism to any particular bradycardia, but the underlying mechanism is not clinically relevant to treatment, which is the same in both cases of sick sinus syndrome: a permanent pacemaker.
Atrioventricular conduction disturbances (aka an AV block) may result from impaired conduction in the AV node, or anywhere below it, such as in the His bundle.
Patients with bradycardia have likely acquired it, as opposed to having it congenitally. Also, bradycardia is more common in older patients, since both cardiac and non-cardiac causes are more likely in the elderly.
There are two main reasons for treating any cardiac arrhythmias. With bradycardia, the first is to address the associated symptoms, such as fatigue, limitations on how much an individual can physical exert, fainting (syncope), dizziness or lightheadedness, or other vague and non-specific symptoms. The other reason to treat bradycardia is if the person's ultimate outcome (prognosis) will be changed or impacted by the bradycardia. Treatment in this vein depends on whether any symptoms are present, and what the underlying cause is. Primary or idiopathic bradycardia is treated symptomatically if it is significant, and the underlying cause is treated if the bradycardia is secondary.
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13