Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Knowing the Heart's Pace

Whenever our hearts would beat faster than it usually does, it immediately catches our attention. We are quick to make inferences. We associate it to certain events, specific people, or even the most recent food we ate. When the stimulus is not something pleasant, it usually alarms us. We worry of a possible heart ailment or a malfunction somewhere inside our chest. But when the heart beats slow, we just think of it as something not to worry about. It's something we can easily dismiss as a normal thing. Well, it's not. It's actually a major health care concern.

A heart that beats too slowly is as attention-worthy as the heart that beats too rapidly. It is needless to prove that the beating of the heart is responsible for the delivery of blood to the different parts of our body. It should then be easy for us to understand that an abnormally slow beating of the heart significantly affects the supply of oxygen and minerals to the different organs of the body-- something worth our precious attention.

The normal heart rate for adults is at 60 to 90 beats per minute while on a resting mode. This would normally go up while doing a physical activity that demands more energy and will then gradually go back to its normal rate after. The heart is considered to be beating slowly if its rate is less than 60 beats per minute. But for athletes, a heart rate below 60 beats per minute is just but normal. The slow beating of the heart is called bradycardia, from the Greek words ‘brady,' which means slow, and ‘cardia,' which means heart.

When the heart beats too slowly, the body does not get the sufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients it needs for its systems and organs. When our organs are not properly fed with what they need, they fall short of the much needed vitality in performing their crucial functions. Of all the organs, the brain is the most affected one. The most common manifestations of a brain not getting the enough supply it needs are sudden loss of consciousness, light-headedness, and forgetfulness. The muscles are also gravely affected by the effects of abnormally slow heart rate. A person who always experiences fatigue, malaise, or tiredness, even in the absence of a really strenuous physical activity, is most likely to be suffering from a poor heart rate. Worse, it can lead to failure of the liver, kidney, and even the heart itself.

The most common cause of slow heart beating is aging. Thus, the abnormality is mostly seen among adults. As aging sets on, a number of medical medical problems start to arise. These medical problems and some of the medications also constitute for bradycardia. Medical problems like a disease in the heart's natural pacemaker (sinoatrial or SA node) and electrical relay station in the heart (AV node), are known causes of slow heart rate. Medications like calcium channel blockers such as verapamil (Calan) and beta-blockers such as propanolol (Inderal) and digoxin (Lanoxin) are also common causes of bradycardia.

If the heart's natural pacemaker cannot normalize the beating of the heart anymore, a patient will need to have an artificial pacemaker. An artificial pacemaker is an electronic device being implanted to the heart. This device takes on the function of the SA node in keeping track of the heart's beat rate. It releases electrical signals to ensure the normal flowing of the blood through out the body. An artificial pacemaker is lithium-battery operated and is equipped with a little computer. This computer not only regulates the beating of the heart. It enables the pacemaker to be monitored and controlled by a physician through an external device, which is placed on the skin of the chest. Most batteries of pacemakers has a minimum 5-year life span. Implanting a pacemaker is not an open-heart surgery. It is actually just a minor surgical procedure and full recovery is at one week maximum period. Medical data can prove that implantation of pacemaker is generally safe with less than one death in every 10,000 implant operations. Complications from the procudure is also very low at only one percent.

Having a pacemaker implant will not make a patient disabled. Normal life can be quickly regained soon after the operation. Only minor changes and practices need to be followed. Electronic communication gadgets, like cellular phones, should be at at least 12-inch distance from a pacemaker that is turned on.

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