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Your heart rate is the number of beats (rhythmic contractions) per minute of your heart. Your heart is the muscular organ, located in the chest, behind and to the left of the breastbone that maintains circulation of the blood. Heart rate is a measure of cardiac activity.
Heart rate is one of the vital signs. Vital signs like body temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure provide information about a person’s state of health. Any abnormality of these signs can offer diagnostic clues.
A slow heart rate is considered anything slower than 50 beats per minute for an adult or child at rest.
Alternative names for this condition include:
You can measure your heart rate. First, find your heart rate by holding a finger to the radial artery at the wrist. Other places it can be measured are at the neck (carotid artery), the groin (femoral artery), and the feet (dorsalis pedis and posterior tibial arteries). Then, count the number of beats per minute while you are resting.
Here are some numbers to keep in mind:
Your heart rate should be strong and regular without any missed beats. If it’s beating slower than the normal rate, it might indicate a medical problem. Fainting, dizziness, loss of consciousness, weakness, and fatigue can accompany a slow heart rate.
In some cases, a slow heart rate is an indication of an extremely healthy heart. Athletes, for instance, often have lower than normal resting heart rates because their heart is strong and doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood throughout the body. However, when a slower heart rate is uncommon and/or accompanied by other symptoms, it could be a sign of something more serious.
A thorough medical evaluation is necessary to determine the cause of a slow heart rate. An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), laboratory tests, and other diagnostic studies may be done.
Potential medical causes of a slow heart rate include:
Treatment depends on the underlying condition. If slow heart rate is due to the effect of medication or toxic exposure, this must be treated medically. An external device (pacemaker) implanted into the chest to stimulate heartbeats is the preferred treatment for certain types of bradycardia.
Because a low heart rate could indicate medical problems, make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes in your heart rate, especially if the changes are accompanied by other symptoms.
In certain situations, a slow heart rate could indicate a medical emergency. The following symptoms can be serious:
If you have any of these symptoms and a change in your heart rate, call 911.
Written by: JC Jones MA, RN
Medically reviewed on: Jan 14, 2015: Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP
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