A low pulse rate may be caused by a number of health conditions. Sometimes, a form of heart disease is the reason for slower blood flow throughout the body. Cardiac abnormalities are common, but other conditions that do not involve the heart, such as a metabolic imbalance or certain lung diseases, can create the symptom. A slower heartbeat does not always indicate a health problem, however. Sometimes, just the opposite is true. Athletic individuals who exercise frequently and enjoy optimum cardiovascular health often have a lower than normal pulse rate because the heart does not have to work as hard while at rest, and the body functions more efficiently.
The normal pulse rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute while in a relaxed state, but it generally fluctuates within that range based on a number of factors, like climate, medication use, and even the person’s emotional state. The medical term for a low pulse rate that falls below 60 beats per minute is bradycardia, which could be a symptom of a serious condition. An individual who experiences signs of decreased heart rhythms should be evaluated by a physician.
As a person gets older, a low pulse rate is more common because of naturally-occurring changes to an aging heart. An individual with a history of heart attacks or one who suffers from atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, or other cardiac abnormalities is especially prone to the condition. A cardiologist usually performs a series of tests to confirm the cause. Sometimes, however, the reason for a low pulse rate is related to some other heath condition and not at all connected to an unhealthy heart.
Lung diseases, such as emphysema, or an under-active thyroid can also cause bradycardia. Sometimes, the reason for developing the symptom is unknown, especially if it does not accompany other identified health complications. A physician usually tries to find the underlying problem and recommend treatment.
The symptoms of bradycardia can be troublesome and scary. Dizziness, fainting, and shortness of breath can result from low pulse rates. Mental faculties can be affected as well, and can result in confusion, impaired memory, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms can become dangerous for the patient, especially if the individual is operating heavy machinery or engaging in activities that require mental alertness, like driving. In some cases, low pulse rates can result in chest pains and difficulty breathing, which signifies a major medical emergency.