What is a low pulse rate?

Updated April 17, 2017

A pulse rate is the number of times the heart beats. It is usually measured per minute. A low pulse rate is sometimes medically referred to as bradycardia. It has a few different causes. It may not always indicate a problem or medical conditions. The pulse rate generally increases during times of physical exertion, fear or pain. It normally decreases at rest and during sleep.


Although there are some normal variations, there is an average pulse rate per minute for adults, children and infants. According to St. Jude Medical Center, the average pulse rate for adults at rest is 60 to 100 beats per minute. Children and infants have a higher resting heart rate. The pulse can be felt at certain locations where it's easy to feel the artery, such as the wrist and the neck.


In healthy individuals a low pulse rate may be due to being physically fit. However in others, bradycardia may occur due to problems with the heart. Electrical impulses travel between the chambers of the heart. If problems with electrical conduction in the heart develop, bradycardia can occur. Certain metabolic conditions, such as hypothyroidism, also cause a low pulse rate. Damage to the heart from a previous heart attack or problem with the senatorial node may also be a cause.


Having a low pulse rate is not necessarily a cause for concern. Individuals who participate in cardiovascular exercise or sports sometimes have a low pulse rate. Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart muscle, making it work more efficiently. Less beats per minute are required to pump blood efficiently throughout the body. The result is a slower than average resting pulse rate.


In individuals who have a slow pulse rate due to a problem with the heart, symptoms other than a slow heart rate may develop. These symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness or becoming lightheaded. If the pulse becomes too low, fainting is also possible. According to the American Heart Association, complications from long term bradycardia can develop overtime and include high blood pressure and heart failure.


Not all individuals who have a low pulse rate will need treatment. Treatment will depend on the cause of the condition and if any other symptoms occur. If the pulse rate becomes dangerously low, certain medications, such as epinephrine, may be given to increase the heart rate. A pacemaker may be surgically inserted to treat chronic bradycardia. The device is inserted under the skin, usually near the collarbone. When the pacemaker senses a slow heart rate, it delivers an electrical impulse to the heart, which increase heart rate.

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About the Author

MaryAnn DePietro has been a professional journalist since 2000, specializing in health, fitness and medical articles. She is also a certified respiratory therapist. Her work has appeared on websites such as eHow and ModernMom and in publications including the “Sacramento Bee, “Press Tribune“ and “Succeed.” DePietro holds a Bachelor of Science in rehabilitation from Penn State University and a degree in respiratory therapy.