Medical History and Physical Exam for a Slow Heart Rate
A doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and do a physical exam to evaluate your symptoms. The information gained from your medical background and physical exam may provide important clues about your symptoms. It also can help a doctor recommend specific tests to help diagnose and treat your condition.
If the doctor thinks you have bradycardia, he or she may ask:
- What symptoms have you had?
- How long did the symptoms last?
- What were you doing when you first noticed the symptoms? Were you eating, coughing, bending over?
- Did anything make the symptoms better or worse, such as slow, deep breathing or holding your breath?
- Did you take your pulse when you had the symptoms? If you did, how fast or slow was your heart beating? Was it beating regularly?
- Do you ever have chest pain?
- Have you ever lost consciousness?
- Does physical activity bring on your symptoms or make them worse?
- Has there been a change in your ability to exercise?
- Have you had a tick bite recently or noticed any rashes?
- What medicines are you currently taking?
- Do you drink alcohol or smoke? Do you use any illegal drugs? If so, how much?
- Do you have a family history of heart disease?
During a physical exam, the doctor or another health professional will:
- Take your blood pressure.
- Check your pulse, to see how fast your heart is beating and to find out whether the rhythm is regular.
- Listen to your heart through a stethoscope. If he or she hears any murmurs, or extra heart sounds, it may mean that your heart's conduction system has been damaged.
- Listen to your lungs through a stethoscope. Certain sounds may indicate fluid buildup (edema) or lung disease.
- Check for swelling in your neck veins, legs, ankles, and abdomen, which is a sign of fluid buildup and possible heart failure.
Why It Is Done
The medical history and physical exam are needed for a doctor to find out whether you have a slow heart rate. They are also important to help discover whether you have any underlying conditions or complications.
Normal findings include the following:
- Blood pressure and pulse rate are normal.
- Breathing and heart rhythm and rate are normal.
- You have no signs of fluid buildup in the body (fluid buildup is a sign of heart failure).
Abnormal findings that may suggest a problem from a slow heart rate include:
- Low blood pressure.
- A slow or irregular pulse.
- Abnormal heart sounds.
- Sounds heard when listening to the lungs, which may indicate a backup of blood in the lungs caused by heart failure.
If the physical exam and medical history strongly suggest a very slow or irregular heartbeat, you will have more testing.
What To Think About
It is important to provide your doctor with detailed information about your symptoms, past medical history, and lifestyle. It may help to write down some of the symptoms you have recently had. Your doctor might ask you to keep a diary of symptoms.
Before your visit, write down all of the medicines you are currently taking. Also, write down other details about your medical history. Be sure to include nonprescription medicines, including diet supplements or herbal remedies. Bring the information to your scheduled appointment.
Other Works Consulted
- Vijayaraman P, Ellenbogen KA (2011). Bradyarrhythmias and pacemakers. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's The Heart, 13th ed., pp. 1025–1057. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.
Last Revised: June 12, 2013
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