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"My heartbeat has been really slow lately. What could it be?"
I've had palpitations on and off for a few years now. Recently I started getting them briefly again, along with not being able to fully catch my breath, so I started taking my pulse. The first time I did, it was 52, which surprised me because I've always been in the 65-75 range. I took it again a few minutes later to be sure and got the same thing. I've been taking my pulse for the past few days now, at different times of the day, and have consistently remained between 47 bpm and 56 bpm. I'm a nineteen year old girl, 5'8" and 115 lbs. I know your heart rate can be low when a person is very active, but I'm not at all and the only exercise I get is walking fifteen minutes to campus twice a week. What's going on with my heart?
It is important for you to discuss your symptoms further with your primary care physician. In general, a normal heart rate for most adults is 60-100. The rate increases in situations such as exercise, when the heart needs to provide more oxygen-rich blood to your body's organs. At other times, such as during sleep, your heart rate can be slower. However, a slow heart rate accompanied by difficulty breathing could be indicative of an abnormality of your heart's intrinsic conduction system. In such situations, the normal electrical signals that cause your heart to beat do not progress normally through the heart. This can be life threatening, which is why you should see your doctor. Your palpitations may also be caused by an arrhythmia. Some common examples include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, atrioventricular reciprocating tachycardia, AV nodal reentrant tachycardia, or atrial tachycardia. You may also be sensing premature, isolated beats that originate in your heart but outside the typical electrical conduction system. These are common and are typically benign. However, it is not normal for you to be experiencing shortness of breath, which is why you should discuss this with your physician. A typical evaluation consists of a thorough history, physical exam, and EKG.
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