Slow heartbeats can affect your heart’s ability to deliver blood and oxygen throughout the body. This can lead to several symptoms including dizziness and shortness of breath.
Your doctor may order a series of tests to find out what is causing your bradycardia. Testing could include a blood test, an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), or an exercise test that will let your doctor monitor your heart rate during physical activity. These tests can help your doctor determine why you are having slower than normal heartbeats.
For an electrocardiogram, your doctor will put small electrical sensors on your chest and arms. The recorded electrical signals will help identify patterns that could indicate what type of bradycardia you have. An ECG/EKG can be done in a physician’s office, a clinic, or hospital. Before the test, talk to your physician about any medications you are taking and remove all of your jewelry. Men will have to remove their shirt and women may be asked to wear a gown. The areas where the electrodes are attached will need to be clean and may need to be shaved to adhere properly. The test takes five to 10 minutes and will require you to lie still, not talk, and breathe normally.
Holter Monitor: You might be given a portable ECG/EKG device–a Holter monitor–to record your heart activity for a 24-hour period while you are at home.
Event Recorder: An event recorder is another portable ECG/EKG device that can monitor your heartbeat for longer periods of time: a few weeks or months. The Event Recorder lets you push a button when you begin feeling symptoms. The readings will help your doctor find out what is happening before, during, and after the episode.
Insertable Cardiac Monitor: There are event recorders that can be inserted just under the skin of your chest and will monitor your heart’s activity continuously for months or even years. The device will be triggered by any irregular heart activity.
To see what happens to your heart rate during physical activity, your doctor may ask you to perform an exercise or “stress” test. Your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure will be monitored while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. Wires from an ECG/EKG machine will be attached to your chest, arms or shoulders and your heartbeats will be recorded. This will show your doctor how your heart responds to greater activity levels. To prepare for a stress test, make sure to wear shoes and clothing that will be comfortable for light exercise.
Having a blood test can help your doctor identify conditions that might be contributing to your bradycardia. A blood test can measure the level of cholesterol, hormones, medications, and other proteins that might be affecting your heart rate.
If you have experienced fainting, your doctor might ask you to have a tilt table test. For this test, you’ll have to lie flat on a table with straps to hold you firmly in place. After 15 minutes, the table will be tilted to an upright position similar to standing. You’ll stay in that position for about 45 minutes. Tilting the table will help your doctor see any changes in your heart rate or blood pressure.