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What causes slow heart rate? 13 possible conditions

What Is a “Slow” Heart Rate?

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:

  • bradycardia
  • heart rate decreased
  • heartbeats decreased
  • low heart rate
  • decreased heart rate
  • pulse slow
  • pulse rate decreased
  • slow heartbeat
  • slow pulse

Understanding Your Heart Rate by the Numbers

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:

  • The resting adult heart rate is normally 60 to 100 beats per minute.
  • Athletes or people on certain medications may have a lower resting normal rate.
  • The normal heart rate for children aged 1 to 8 years is 80 to 100 beats per minute.
  • The normal heart rate for infants age 1 to 12 months is 100 to 120 beats per minute.
  • The normal heart rate for newborns (under 1 month old) is 120 to 160 beats per minute.

Problems That Can Accompany a Slow Heart Rate

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.

Potential Underlying Causes of a Slow Heart Rate

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:

  • abnormal heart rhythms
  • anorexia nervosa
  • autonomic dysreflexia
  • autonomic neuropathy
  • congestive cardiomyopathy
  • heart attack
  • elevated potassium
  • intracerebral hemorrhage
  • marine animal stings or bites
  • side effects of medications
  • stroke
  • subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • sick sinus syndrome
  • hypothermia
  • hypothyroidism
  • AV node damage

Treating the Cause of a Slow Heart Rate

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.

Recognizing a Potential Emergency Situation

In certain situations, a slow heart rate could indicate a medical emergency. The following symptoms can be serious:

  • dizziness
  • loss of consciousness
  • chest pain
  • confusion
  • passing out or fainting
  • shortness of breath
  • weakness
  • arm pain
  • jaw pain
  • severe headache
  • blindness or visual change
  • abdominal pain
  • pallor (pale skin)
  • cyanosis (bluish skin color)
  • disorientation 

If you have any of these symptoms and a change in your heart rate, call 911.

Article Sources:

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Heart Attack Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A clot blocks the blood flow to the heart (heart attack), and damages heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a blue or grey tinge to the skin.

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The thyroid gland produces a hormone that controls how your cells use energy (metabolize). Hypothyroidism occurs when the body doesn't produce enough. Untreated, it can cause complications like obesity and heart disease.

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High Potassium

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Potassium is an essential electrolyte, which is a mineral that your body needs to function correctly. It is particularly important for your nerves and muscles.

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Congestive (Dilated) Cardiomyopathy

Congestive cardiomyopathy, also known as dilated cardiomyopathy, is characterized by a weak primary pumping chamber in the heart. Your heart automatically attempts to correct for this inefficiency. In turn, thi...

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Abnormal Heart Rhythms

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) is a change in the heart's beating pattern. There are many different types with different causes and effects. Possible symptoms are feeling faint, chest pain, and sweating.

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Subarachnoid hemorrhage

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

This life-threatening hemorrhage involves bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover it. If you experience an extreme headache, a popping sound in your head, seizures, and other symptoms, seek immediate help.

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Intracerebral Hemorrhage

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) is when blood suddenly bursts into brain tissue, causing damage to the brain. Symptoms usually appear suddenly during ICH.

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Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is an eating disorder in which obsessive worry about body weight and the food you eat can result in severe weight loss. Symptoms include constipation, missed period, and thinning hair.

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All About Autonomic Dysrelexia (or Hyperreflexia)

Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a condition in which your involuntary nervous system overreacts to stimuli. It's also known as autonomic hyperreflexia.

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Marine Animal Bites or Stings

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Stingrays have venomous spines on their tails that can cause a painful wound, nausea, and weakness, and sometimes death. Swimming or snorkeling in shallow waters puts you at risk for coming in contact.

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Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging, often through forced vomiting.

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Autonomic Neuropathy

Damage to the nerves that help your organs to function can cause a condition called autonomic neuropathy (AN) and is associated with other conditions.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.