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Understanding Your Heart Rate By The Numbers

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If youre curious about your heart rate, you can measure it yourself. First, find your pulse by holding a finger to the radial artery on the inside of your wrist. Then, count the number of beats per minute while youre resting.

Other places your heart rate can be measured include:

  • on your neck, alongside your windpipe
  • inside your elbow
  • on the inside of your groin/upper thigh
  • on the top of your foot

When youre determining your heart rate, here are some numbers to keep in mind:

  • A resting adult heart rate is normally between

How Do I Get My Heart Rate In The Target Zone

When you work out, are you doing too much or not enough? Theres a simple way to know: Your target heart rate helps you hit the bullseye so you can get max benefit from every step, swing and squat. Even if youre not a gym rat or elite athlete, knowing your heart rate can help you track your health and fitness level.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bradycardia

For many people, bradycardia doesnt cause any symptoms. This is especially true for people who are very physically active and have bradycardia because their hearts are more efficient. For people whose hearts cant or dont compensate, the symptoms tend to cause the following:

  • Irritability, agitation or other personality changes.

These symptoms happen because of how bradycardia affects your heart and your brain.


The average human brain weighs about 3 pounds about 1.6% of the total weight of a 180-pound person. Despite its small size, the brain gets between 15% and 20% of the blood that comes out of your heart. If there isnt enough blood flow, that affects your brain function.


Bradycardia symptoms often look a lot like the symptoms of heart failure. Bradycardia can also look like angina, which is chest pain or pressure thats a warning sign of heart disease.

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When To See A Doctor About Your Heart Rate

If a higher heart rate is a result of being under stress or consuming a lot of alcohol or caffeine, thats not typically a cause for alarm. However, these situations still warrant a discussion with your clinician, as they can discuss with you how to best address any necessary lifestyle changes.

Meanwhile, adults without an acute condition that might cause an elevated heart rate may also want to contact their doctor if their resting heart rate remains above 100 beats per minute for a few days, says Dr. Tilahun.

If the heart rate is persistently elevated for more than a few days and there is absence of a clear thing that can explain it, that should be a time to talk to your doctor, he says.

Other Heart Electrical Issues

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If the heart is unable to send electrical signals due to a blockage or heart disease, this can lead to bradycardia.

Complete heart block is when there is a total loss of communication between a persons atria and the ventricles. This occurs when the SA node is unable to pass a signal to the AV node.

Complete heart block results in a persons atria and ventricles activating independently of each other. It can be fatal if a person does not receive treatment for complete heart block quickly.

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What Can I Expect If I Have This Condition

For many people, bradycardia doesnt cause symptoms and isnt a problem. This is especially true for people who have bradycardia because theyre in good physical shape.

For people who do have symptoms or problems because of bradycardia, youre more likely to have a good outcome with early diagnosis and treatment. Delays in treatment, especially when bradycardia happens because of certain conditions, usually increase your risk of complications or death.

How long does bradycardia last?

Bradycardia can be a life-long problem, or it can be short-lived. The underlying cause is usually what decides how long it will last. Bradycardia is more-likely to be a short-term problem when it happens because of drugs or with other short-term conditions.

Overall, your healthcare provider is the best person to tell you whether or not this condition will be a short-term concern or if you’ll have it for the rest of your life. In most cases where you have symptoms and you’ll have it for the rest of your life, you’ll need to take medication daily or have surgery to implant a pacemaker.

How To Reduce Your Risk Of Developing Heart Disease

Even though bradycardia may not be prevented, you can reduce your risk of heart disease through regular exercise, eating heathy foods, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, managing stress, and monitoring and treating existing heart disease.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of having regular physical exams and notifying your doctor of symptoms you are experiencing. This may be the only way to catch a problem that usually does not have symptoms early on.

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How Does Heart Rate Change During Sleep

In general, heart rate is slower during sleep than when a person is awake. However, heart rate also changes as a sleeper cycles through the different stages of sleep. In the first stages of light sleep, heart rate begins to slow. During deep sleep, the heart rate reaches its lowest levels. In rapid eye movement sleep, heart rate may speed up to a heart rate similar to when you are awake.

Most people experience a more relaxed heart rate during non-rapid eye movement sleep, which helps protect against cardiovascular events. By contrast, REM sleep is often marked by periods of higher activity. While this is considered normal, researchers believe that the surge in activity during REM sleep could explain why already vulnerable people often experience heart attacks and other events in the early morning hours, which is typically spent more in REM sleep.

Sleep problems can have negative impacts on your heart and cardiovascular health, increasing your heart rate and contributing to higher blood pressure. Disorders such as sleep apnea, periodic limb movements, or shift work disorder that interfere with sleep have been linked to a higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

How Is Bradycardia Treated And Is It Curable

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If you dont have bradycardia but dont have any symptoms, its unlikely that you need treatment. For those who do have symptoms, bradycardia is almost always treatable and is sometimes curable. If you have bradycardia because of another medical condition, sometimes treating that condition is all it takes to stop your bradycardia. An example of this is when you have bradycardia because of a medication youre taking.

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Medicines To Reduce The Risk Of A Stroke

The way the heart beats in atrial fibrillation means that there is a risk of blood clots forming in the heart chambers. If these get into the bloodstream, they can cause a stroke .

Your doctor will assess your risk to minimise your chance of a stroke. They will consider your age and whether you have a history of any of the following:

You will be classed as having a high, moderate or low risk of a stroke and will be given medication according to your risk.

Depending on your level of risk, you may be prescribed warfarin.

Restoring A Normal Heart Rhythm

There are a number of drugs that can be used to try to restore a normal heart. The best option for you will be decided by your cardiologist and /or GP.

Commonly, these drugs include:

Dronedarone may also be used for certain people.

It is important you know what side effects to look out for if taking such medication and seek medical advice if you experience any of them.

To find out about side effects, read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for more details.

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Does Bradycardia Require Treatment

If your heart rate is slow, but you dont have symptoms, theres no reason to worry. However, its a good idea to know the signs of trouble because bradycardia in some cases does require treatment.

For example, if your heart rate drops into the 30s, you might not get enough oxygen to your brain, making fainting, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath possible. Blood can also pool in your heart chambers, causing congestive heart failure.

Exercise And Your Pulse

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If you check your pulse during or immediately after exercise, it may give an indication of your fitness level. A heart rate monitor is also useful for recording your heart rate when resting and during exercise.

Aerobic activities such as walking, running and swimming are good types of exercise because they increase your heart and breathing rates.

If you haven’t exercised before, or haven’t for some time, see our Live Well section to read about the benefits of exercise and how much exercise you should be doing.

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What Other Conditions Cause A Low Heart Rate

Many of the medical conditions that cause bradycardia are more common in people who are older or have underlying heart conditions. Some examples of medical problems that can cause bradycardia include:

  • Problems with the hearts electrical pathways: There is a special electrical circuit in our heart that controls each heart beat. Problems with this conduction system can cause the signal to go awry. This is called an arrhythmia.

  • An abnormal shape or structure of the heart: The shape and size of the heart can begin to change in response to other medical problems. Examples include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or heavy alcohol use. Some people are born with certain defects, too. All of these conditions can affect the conduction system we just mentioned.

  • Metabolic abnormalities: The heart requires the right balance of electrolytes and hormones to pump correctly. Conditions like hypothyroidism or low potassium levels can cause the heart to beat too slowly.

Causes Of Low Heart Rate Problems

The most common cause of a low heart rate is a malfunction in the hearts sinus node, its natural pacemaker. This area sends our electrical signals telling the top and bottom heart chambers the timing of when to pump blood through the body.

Other causes of low heart rate include an atrioventricular block, age, and certain conditions such as inflammation of the heart muscle, low thyroid function, electrolyte imbalance, obstructive sleep apnea, or heart attack due to coronary artery disease.

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Slow Resting Heart Rates

On the other hand, a resting heart rate below 60 beats per minute is called bradycardia, and can cause insufficient blood flow to the brain.

“An abnormally low heart rate can lead to symptoms such as feeling tired, lightheaded, dizzy, and may even cause loss of consciousness,” says Suneet Mittal, M.D, FHRS, of the Heart Rhythm Society.

There are some conditions, such as thyroid disease, that can affect how fast your heart beats, Dr. Singh says. For people with an overactive thyroid, called hyperthyroidism, the excess amount of thyroid hormone can elevate the heart rate, he explains. Conversely, people with an underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, can have slower heart rates.

Some medications are also known to affect the heart rate, Dr. Singh adds. Stimulants such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient found in decongestants, can elevate it. Beta-blockers, which are medications used to treat high blood pressure and hyperthyroidism, can act on heart rate as well and cause it to read as lower. Electrical abnormalities in the heart’s pathways can also lower your resting heart rate.

Without overdoing it, one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy resting heart rate is exercise. You should be incorporating both cardio and weights into your routine, for a total of 150 minutes per week, says Traynor.

What Causes A Low Heart Rate

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Many things can bring on a slow heart rate.

A heart malfunction

The most common cause for bradycardia is a malfunction in the hearts natural pacemaker, the sinus node. It controls how quickly the top and bottom heart chambers pump blood through the body.

AV Block

Another cause of bradycardia is atrioventricular block , in which the top and bottom chambers dont communicate well and your heart rate drops as a result.

Its like having virtual electrical cables and wires inside the heart, Dr. Baez-Escudero says. These deteriorate as we age. Common medications used in older populations can also often make bradycardia more significant.


Age is the most common risk factor for developing bradycardia. The condition is most common among men and women over age 65.

Having certain illnesses or conditions

Illness or other conditions may also cause bradycardia. These include:

  • Heart attacks due to coronary artery disease.
  • A bacterial infection in the blood that attacks your heart.
  • Inflammation of your heart muscle.
  • Low thyroid function.
  • Too much potassium in your blood.
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers and antiarrhythmics.

Congenital heart defects, diabetes or long-standing high blood pressure all may make bradycardia more likely, says Dr. Baez-Escudero.

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How Common Is This Condition

Bradycardia is a common condition among people in certain age groups and with certain circumstances. Its most common in the following:

  • People over 65. This condition causes symptoms in about 1 in every 600 adults over age 65. That means there are over half a million adults over 65 with symptoms of this condition. However, the number of people with bradycardia but no symptoms is probably much higher. Bradycardia is especially common in older adults when theyre asleep.
  • People who are very physically active. People who regularly exercise can have bradycardia because they are in good physical shape. Bradycardia doesnt affect these people because their heart pumps blood more efficiently and meets their bodys needs even though it beats slower.

What Are The Harmless Causes Of Low Heart Rate

It is normal for our heart rate to fluctuate throughout the day. It naturally changes in response to what our body needs and what we are doing. Some harmless causes of bradycardia include:

  • Sleep: Our heart rate is generally lower when we are asleep or in a relaxed state. This is also known as our resting heart rate. When we are lying down and resting, our heart doesn’t have to work as hard against gravity to get the blood everywhere it needs to go. When were sleeping, our bodies dont use as much energy, so our nervous system tells the heart to take a little bit of a break.

  • Physical fitness: Cardiovascular activity strengthens our heart muscle. And a stronger heart can pump blood more efficiently. When the heart beats more efficiently in someone who has been physically training over time, their heart rate tends to be lower.

  • Certain medications: Some medications lower the heart rate in order to decrease the amount of work the heart has to do. Some examples include blood pressure medications, like beta blockers or calcium channel blockers.

While these causes of bradycardia are expected, there are some concerning conditions that can also cause a low heart rate.

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How To Lower Your Resting Heart Rate

When your resting heart rate is in the normal heart rate range for your age, your heart muscle doesnt have to work as hard to pump enough blood to keep a steady beat.

If someone notices an increase in their heart rate within a certain periodafter not being physically active for a year or two, for examplebut other things havent changed much with their health, the elevated heart rate could indicate they may need to be more active to lower the heart rate, says Dr. Tilahun.

If your resting heart rate is higher than the normal adult heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute, regular activity is key to bringing the heart rate down. That activity could be exercise, but it doesnt have to be dedicated exercise. It could be walking, gardening, mowing the lawn or other regular activities, says Tilahun.

When youre doing the activity, the heart rate is going to be higher, and people sometimes get worried. But thats not an issueits whats supposed to happen. Over time, regular activity will lower the heart rate for most people, he adds.

What Is Myocarditis

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Myocarditis is a serious though rare condition where inflammation develops in the myocardium, or middle muscular layer of the heart wall.

Myocarditis can weaken the heart and its electrical system. As a result, the hearts ability to pump blood declines.

The condition may be acute and resolve quickly. Or it may be chronic, lasting longer than two weeks. In severe cases, myocarditis may lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure or death.

Often the cause of myocarditis is unknown. Commonly a viral infection , bacterial infection , or fungal infection can lead to myocarditis. Medications, autoimmune disorders, and toxic substances also can cause it.

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How Is It Diagnosed

To diagnose bradycardia, your doctor may take your pulse, do a physical exam, ask questions about your health, and do an electrocardiogram . An EKG measures the electrical signals that control heart rhythm.

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 have it during the test.

You may need to wear or carry a device called a portable, or ambulatory, electrocardiogram. Examples include a Holter monitor and a cardiac event monitor. You might use it for a day or more. It records your heart rhythm while you go about your daily routine.

You may have blood tests to find out if another problem is causing your slow heart rate.

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