A slow rate suggests that you are not pumping enough blood to your body and this can cause poor oxygenation
Points to Remember:
- Slow heart rate can be from hypothyroidism
- Slow heart rate can be caused by an arrhythmia (an irregular heart rate)
- Slow heart rate can be because you have conditioned your body through aerobic activity
Primary care doctors check your pulse, your blood pressure and your height and weight when you enter the office before, they even see you. These pieces of information are called your vital signs, and they represent individual signs of health. We have discussed the importance of normal blood pressure and normal body composition in the past, but today we’d like to talk about the importance of having a normal heart rate. Medically a human should have a pulse between above 60 beats per minute and below 100 beats per minute, unless they are well trained athletes, then their heart rate at rest may be 40 beats per minute because their heart has been trained to be very efficient so an athlete can run miles at a time.
However, if you are not a lifelong well-trained athlete and your heat beat is less than 60, then you may have a medical problem.
This week, we are going to discuss what it means to have a slow heart rate and what should be done if you have this problem.
I decided to discuss this concept with you when one of my new patients who presented to my office for the first time went on and on about how healthy she was because her heart rate was 40 beats per minute. She was over 50, had a sedentary job, and was 20 lbs. overweight, didn’t exercise regularly and was out of breath while she regaled me with how healthy she was! I had evaluated her lab and her medical history and knew before I met her that she had some early medical problems over and above her lack of hormones. I was taken aback by her misinterpretation of her slow heart rate that made her think she was perfectly healthy. I then had to shatter her healthy self-impression by going over the lab that revealed early diabetes, high lipids, fatty liver and obesity. It was only then that I took her pulse myself. In fact, her heart rate was 42, however it was irregular and was clearly not pumping enough blood through her system to adequately oxygenate her. Her skin was sallow and pale, and she was out of breath when speaking. This particular slow heart rate was not healthy. Her slow rate was causing fatigue and stress on all of her organs. I referred her to a good cardiologist who would rule out atrial fibrillation, and other less common abnormal heart rates and give her a diagnosis and treat her, while I replaced her estradiol and testosterone and treated the other metabolic problems that she had. It was this patient who inspired me to set the record straight about the healthiness of a slow heart rate.
So, let me paint a simple picture of what your heart does. Your heart is a muscle that works day and night from the day you are born to the day you die. This muscle has its own stimulation from your pacemaker which sets the basic rate of your heartbeat. There are many other factors that have an effect on your heart rate: medications, drugs like cocaine, stress, and fear increase heart rate by stimulating the adrenal gland which secretes adrenaline and increases the heart rate. Other medications and hormones or the lack of either can slow the heart rate. The rate must be between 60-100 to allow the atria and ventricles to fill with oxygenated blood during the diastolic phase of the heartbeat (the “lub” sound) before the heart squeezes or contracts and pushes the blood out of the heart during systole (“dub” sound). If it’s too fast the heart doesn’t fill with blood completely and then there is not enough blood to push out to provide oxygen to your body. If it’s too slow then the heart expands too much and can’t squeeze hard enough to provide enough force to push enough blood out to oxygenate your body.
Providing oxygenation is one of the essential roles of the circulatory system and a necessary element needed for a healthy body. All of your cells need oxygen to function. The blood flow provided by the heart pump is what delivers this oxygen to those cells. I am not covering every cause of poor oxygenation or all the causes of a slow heart rate but the most common cause of slow heart rate.
If you have hypothyroidism, you will have a slow heart rate, low blood pressure and low body temperature. Thyroid hormone is one of the necessary hormones for a healthy circulation. The thyroid hormone stimulates the strength of the hearts’ muscular strength and stimulates the heart’s pacemaker and supports it to contract normally between 60 and 100. By doing this, thyroid hormone normalizes blood pressure and tone of the arteries. When someone has low thyroid, their lower legs swell because their blood flow is poor, they are fatigued because they aren’t getting efficient oxygen to their brain and the rest of their cells. The body is complex, and it actually does take a medical degree to understand the healthy function of the body, as well as the dysfunctions that can happen during a lifetime. Please listen to your physician when they suspect and issue with one of your complaints because it may be something that can be easily treated, and it may cause a severe problem in the future if you don’t treat it now!
If you have a slow heart rate (< 60 beats per minute) please don’t assume you are healthy and that you don’t need an evaluation by a specialist if you are tired, swollen, have chest pain, or fluttering in your chest. It is only the lifelong athlete who is still actively exercising nearly daily, near ideal weight who has a low heartbeat that indicates physical fitness! If that’s not you and you have a slow heart rate please ask for an evaluation from your primary care doctor who evaluates your heart, your hormones, complete blood work, and your vital signs—blood pressure, heart rate, and weight. It is then your job to follow the recommendations of your doctor and change your lifestyle and take the medications or get the procedure recommended.
This Health cast was written and presented by Dr. Kathy Maupin, M.D., Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Expert and Author, with Brett Newcomb, MA., LPC., Family Counselor, Presenter and Author. www.BioBalanceHealth.com.