What is a slow heart rate?

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute. Heart rate is a measure of cardiac activity. A slow heart rate is considered anything slower than 60 beats per minute for an adult or child at rest.

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.

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 or accompanied by other symptoms, it could be a sign of something more serious.

You can measure your own heart rate. First, find your heart rate by holding a finger to the radial artery at the wrist. Then, count the number of beats per minute while you’re resting.

Other places your heart rate can be measured are at the neck (carotid artery), the groin (femoral artery), and the feet (dorsalis pedis and posterior tibial arteries).

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 12 years is 80 to 120 beats per minute.
  • The normal heart rate for infants age 1 to 12 months is 100 to 170 beats per minute.

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 or seek emergency medical attention immediately.

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.