Illustration comparing the EKGs of a healthy person (top
) and a person with bradycardia (bottom
): The points on the heart where the EKG signals are measured are also shown.
Atrial bradycardias are divided into three types. The first, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, is usually found in young and healthy adults. Heart rate increases during inhalation and decreases during exhalation. This is thought to be caused by changes in the vagal tone during respiration. If the decrease during exhalation drops the heart rate below 60 bpm on each breath, this type of bradycardia is usually deemed benign and a sign of good
The second, sinus bradycardia, is a sinus rhythm of less than 60 BPM. It is a common condition found in both healthy individuals and those considered well-conditioned athletes. Studies have found that 50–85% of conditioned athletes have benign sinus bradycardia, as compared to 23% of the general population studied. The heart muscle of athletes has become conditioned to have a higher stroke volume, so requires fewer contractions to circulate the same volume of blood.
The third, sick sinus syndrome, covers conditions that include severe sinus bradycardia, sinoatrial block, sinus arrest, and bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome (atrial fibrillation, flutter, and paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia).
An atrioventricular nodal bradycardia or AV junction rhythm is usually caused by the absence of the electrical impulse from the sinus node. This usually appears on an EKG with a normal QRS complex accompanied with an inverted P wave either before, during, or after the QRS complex.
An AV junctional escape is a delayed heartbeat originating from an ectopic focus somewhere in the
AV junction. It occurs when the rate of depolarization of the SA node falls below the rate of the AV node. This dysrhythmia also may occur when the electrical impulses from the SA node fail to reach the AV node because of SA or AV block. This is a protective mechanism for the heart, to compensate for an SA node that is no longer handling the pacemaking activity, and is one of a series of backup sites that can take over pacemaker function when the SA node fails to do so. This would present with a longer PR interval. A junctional escape complex is a normal response that may result from excessive vagal tone on the SA node. Pathological causes include sinus bradycardia, sinus arrest, sinus exit block, or AV block.
A ventricular bradycardia, also known as ventricular escape rhythm or idioventricular rhythm, is a heart rate of less than 50 BPM. This is a safety mechanism when a lack of electrical impulse or stimuli from the atrium occurs. Impulses originating within or below the bundle of His in the atrioventricular node will produce a wide QRS complex with heart rates between 20 and 40 BPM. Those above the bundle of His, also known as junctional, will typically range between 40 and 60 BPM with a narrow QRS complex. In a third-degree heart block, about 61% take place at the bundle branch-Purkinje system, 21% at the AV node, and 15% at the bundle of His. AV block may be ruled out with an EKG indicating "a 1:1 relationship between P waves and QRS complexes." Ventricular bradycardias occurs with sinus bradycardia, sinus arrest, and AV block. Treatment often consists of the administration of atropine and cardiac pacing.
For infants, bradycardia is defined as a heart rate less than 100 BPM (normal is around 120–160). Premature babies are more likely than full-term babies to have apnea and bradycardia spells; their cause is not clearly understood. The spells may be related to centers inside the brain that regulate breathing which may not be fully developed. Touching the baby gently or rocking the incubator slightly will almost always get the baby to start breathing again, which increases the heart rate. Medications (theophylline or caffeine) can be used to treat these spells in babies if necessary. Neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) standard practice is to electronically monitor the heart and lungs for this reason.