Your heart rate, or pulse, tells you how fast or slow your heart is beating. A slow heart rate can be normal, but it could be a sign of a problem. This page explains the difference between a normal slow heart rate and an abnormal one, and what to do.
What is bradycardia?
Bradycardia is a slower than normal heart rate. A normal adult resting heart rate is between 60–100 beats per minute (bpm). If you have bradycardia, your heart beats fewer than 60 times a minute. People who are physically very fit can have a heart rate as low as 40 bpm. But in people who aren’t physically very fit, bradycardia is often a sign of problems with the heart.
A person with a slow heart rate might not be aware of it, but symptoms can include:
If you have any of these symptoms and you have a slow heart rate, you should see a doctor or go to your nearest emergency department.
What causes bradycardia?
Bradycardia can be due to extreme fitness. But it is often related to other causes, such as:
- irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia
- damage to your heart
- electrolyte imbalance
- heart disorder present at birth (congenital heart defect)
- infection of heart tissue
- medication, such as those to treat high blood pressure
If you have a heart rate under 60, and you’re aren’t exceptionally fit, it’s important to see your doctor. It might help to make a note of the times you notice your heart is slow, and how you’re feeling at the time.
When you see your doctor, they will measure your heart rate. Your heart rate might have returned to normal, so it’s a good idea to keep a record of when you experience bradycardia or related symptoms.
Your doctor will also need to work out the cause of your bradycardia. They will ask about your symptoms and your medical and family health history, and will examine you. Tests, such as an electrocardiogram, or ECG, might be done to check your heart. Depending on what is found, you might need further tests such as a stress test.
Treatment will depend on the cause of your bradycardia. For example if you have hypothyroidism, treating it might bring your heart rate up to normal. People who have a slow heart rate because they are physically fit won’t need any treatment. Some people might need medication, a pacemaker or some other form of treatment for the heart.
Bradycardia can’t always be prevented. You may help prevent bradycardia by lowering your risk of heart disease. This includes:
Last reviewed: May 2018