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What Are the Common Causes of a Low Heart Rate?

An underlying heart problem is often the cause of a low heart rate.
A human heart.
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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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Bradycardia is a condition that is commonly known as a low heart rate. A normal heart rate for a resting adult is considered to be 60 to 100 beats per minute. Any heart rate below this is considered to be low. Sometimes this condition is caused by a certain health problem, especially heart problems, or medications. Other times, it may not be a problem at all, just a sign of good health.

When an individual has a low heart rate, one of the more common causes is an underlying heart problem. A heart attack or other trauma to the heart, for example, can cause problems in the heart's natural pacemaker. This can sometimes cause a person's heart to beat too fast or beat too slow.

Many times, patients with this type of problem must have an artificial pacemaker. These tiny electronic devices are often surgically implanted into the chest. This device is then hooked to the heart, and electric impulses cause the heart to beat at a regular rhythm.

Patients with certain thyroid problems may also suffer from a low heart rate. Hypothyroidism, for example, occurs when the thyroid gland produces an insufficient amount of thyroxine. This is the hormone that is responsible for regulating a person's metabolic rate. Low levels of this hormone can cause a low heart rate.

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Chemical imbalances, such as an electrolyte imbalance, in a person's body can also cause the heart to beat too slowly. Hyperkalemia occurs when a person's blood has too much potassium. This can cause the muscles in the heart to stop working properly, which can lead to a low heart rate, and in some cases, heart failure. A massive dose of potassium is injected into prisoners sentenced to die by lethal injection.

A low heart rate may also be a side effect of some medications. Ironically, most of the medications that can produce this side effect are the same mediciness used to treat other heart problems. Beta-blockers, for example, are used to treat high blood pressure, but they can also cause a dangerously low heart rate in some individuals.

In some individuals, a low heart rate is actually a sign of good health and fitness. People who exercise regularly, including trained athletes, typically have a lower heart rate than more sedentary individuals. This occurs because active individuals usually have much healthier hearts.

A person who has a low heart rate should usually only be concerned if he experiences negative symptoms. Some signs of medical problem pertaining to a slow heart rate include dizziness and fainting, along with weakness, fatigue, and chest pains.

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