Low pulse rate could signal an underlying problem in the body. Read on to understand its causes, symptoms and treatment options.
Mar 2, 2019
Our pulse determines our heart's health. Most of us have our pulse rate examined every time we go to a clinic. The doctor holds up the inner wrist and checks his/her watch, and tells us we are fine. That is because our pulse rate tells him so.
In medical terms, an individual's pulse is the arterial palpitation of a heartbeat, and for the rest of us, it is the number of heartbeats per second that is felt because of the pressure waves generated by the cardiac systole that move the artery walls.
The pulse rate can be checked by feeling the carotid artery (neck), radial artery (wrist), brachial artery (inner side of the elbow), posterior tibial artery (near the ankle joint) and popliteal artery (behind the knee).
Normal pulse rate of a healthy adult, at rest can range from 60 to 100 beats per minute (BPM). So does that make a low pulse rate unhealthy? Not necessarily.
Heart rate is the number of times the heart beats per minute, which can be felt through the pulse. So basically the pulse rate one feels is actually the heartbeat. If the heart is not beating very fast and is relaxed, one will experience a low pulse rate, which is healthy, as the heart muscle is not beating too hard to do its job.
So every time one exerts themselves mentally or physically, the heart beats faster, which means you have a higher pulse rate. Hence, it is normal for the pulse rate to increase or decrease during the day, depending upon the level of activity.
The medical term for a low pulse rate (below 50 BPM) and a high pulse rate (above 100 BPM) is bradycardia and tachycardia, respectively. Studying a pulse rate chart gives better understanding of normal pulse rate as per the age of an individual.
Low Pulse Rate or Slow Heart Rate
There are times when a low pulse rate works as an indicator to an underlying problem. If the heart is beating slowly for certain causes, it will pump insufficient levels of blood, depriving cells of oxygen. Our heart rate is controlled by electrical signals in the upper-right chamber of the heart where it is initiated by the sinus node.
Once initiated, the electrical signals are sent to the atrioventricular node, from where it is once again forwarded to the bundle of His and corresponding branches of cells causing the lower chambers to contract. Any interruption in these electrical signals, either in transmission or speed can cause the heart to beat slower, and the pulse rate to be low.
Any cardiac-related problems including heart tissue infection, can also result in low pulse rate. Certain conditions like high blood pressure, electrolyte imbalance, and thyroid problems are also seen as causes. Old age, when the heart tissues begin to deteriorate, can also result in a low pulse rate. Medications too can make your heartbeat slower.
As the heart beats slower, it pumps the blood slower, that reduces the amount of oxygen in the cells. Because of this, one may feel dizzy, tired, experience fatigue, and a drop in the blood pressure may cause chest pain or fainting spells.
If the cause of low pulse rate is being produced due to electrical interruptions in the heart, then severe chest pain or respiratory problems may also occur. Cardiac arrest may be a result of a too low and untreated pulse rate.
Treatment of low pulse rate depends on the cause behind it and other symptoms accompanying it. If a person's pulse rate drops below the normal range due to an underlying illness, like hypothyroidism etc., doctors treat the illness to get the pulse rate back to normal, so that body tissues receive the amount of blood that is required for proper functioning.
If the pulse drops due to problem in the electrical system of the heart, a pacemaker is placed in the heart to rectify the problem. If the cause is a medicine, the doctor may either prescribe an alternative to it or adjust its dose. If the problem still persists, he may prescribe a pacemaker.
Besides proper medical treatment, patients can follow a few measures at home for better recovery from slow heart rate or bradycardia. A few lifestyle changes, like consuming a diet with less fat and salt content, regular exercise, and no smoking can help in bringing the pulse rate back to normal.
Contact your doctor immediately if you feel you have a low pulse rate, as it is he who can determine whether your low pulse rate is at a dangerous low, and prescribe required treatment.