Sinus node disease, sometimes referred to as sick sinus syndrome or dysfunction, is a common heart problem characterized by irregular heartbeat resulting from the heart’s sinus.
This particular part of your heart is responsible for keeping your heartbeat going. It is an organic pacemaker.
When the sinus node doesn’t function properly, you experience an arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat. This is what happens when someone has sick sinus syndrome.
Heart rhythms can be either too fast or slow or even have irregular pauses. Though the condition is fairly uncommon, it can increase as a person gets older and those who suffer from the disorder will require a pacemaker to keep their heart functioning properly.
Dr Serge A. Kozak (FRACGP MBBS BMedSc DCH) from DearJane Medical. People with sick sinus conditions may not have any symptoms at all or experience just a few that they attribute to other problems. Symptoms may not present all the time either. Some common symptoms of sick sinus syndrome include:
- Bradycardia (slow pulse)
- Excessive drowsiness
- Short breaths
- Pain in chest
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling faint or light-headed
Should I See a Doctor?
You may be wondering when you should to see a doctor and the best answer is, if you feel concerned, you should visit. You should also talk to your healthcare provider if you experience chest pain or palpitations along with shortness of breath or feelings of light-headedness. It is important to see your doctor because they can help you identify the cause of these symptoms quickly.
Types of Sick Sinus Syndrome
There are several different types of sick sinus conditions including:
- Sinoatrial block – this occurs when the electrical signals from the brain pass too slowly through the sinus node, the result is a slow heartbeat, much slower than normal. Electrical nerve pulse signals move too slowly via the sinus node, triggering an unusually slow heart rate.
- Sinus arrest where sinus node activity may pause.
- Bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome. A situation was heart rate changes between unusually fast and unusually slows rhythms, often this happens with a long pause (asystole) between your heartbeats.
Causes & Risk Factors
Causes of sick sinus syndrome usually result from damage to the heart itself including scarring. This can even result from previous heart surgeries especially if they were performed years earlier or as a child.
The condition can actually be activated by some medications that treat blood pressure or heart conditions too. These aren’t the only causes though and some may be related to normal aging. That doesn’t mean that just because you are old, you’ll be afflicted with the syndrome. Sick sinus syndrome can happen to anyone of any age even the very young.
In some rare cases, the syndrome may be correlated with other severe heart conditions or degenerative diseases.
If you’re experiencing an unnatural heartbeat it means your heart isn’t working like it was designed. That also means that you won’t be getting enough blood circulation to critical parts of the body, like the brain. In some cases, your heart may beat quickly and in others, it may slow down. In this case, you may experience heart failure!
If you have bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome there’s a risk that you can throw a clot into your heart which may result in a stroke. One reason you’re at higher risk is because your heart beats faster, sometimes called atrial fibrillation. It’s an irregular, fast beating of the heart that encourages blood to stay in the heart. This is why clots form and why you may be at risk for a stroke.
Common Treatments & Medications
If you’re suffering from sick sinus syndrome, you should know that many of the treatments involve getting rid of the symptoms themselves but if you’re not bothered by the symptoms you may not need to treat them at all. Just be sure to have regular physicals and talk to your doctor if anything changes.
If the symptoms of sick sinus syndrome are too much for you to bear, you will want to see a doctor about treatment. The most common form of treatment is the implantation of a pacemaker.
Some medications may actually contribute to the intensity of symptoms, so your doctor needs to know what you’re taking. In some cases, adjusting your medications may alleviate the symptoms.
Pacemakers are the most common way to control the disease and if you have sick sinus syndrome, you will probably need a pacemaker eventually. The pacemaker is small and is implanted near your clavicle. The surgery to install a pacemaker is minor and when installed, will help your heart maintain a normal rhythm.
Recovery from the surgery won’t take long and once you’ve fully recovered you can return to your normal life. You can even perform activities that you once used to enjoy. There are very few risks to the surgery and most include infection or pain at the site of the surgery. It is reccomended to wear soft shoe insoles while recovering.
Additional Treatments for Irregular or Fast Heartbeat
If part of your condition includes a rapid heartbeat, it may take more than a pacemaker to alleviate your symptoms. You may require some additional treatments or options. Additional treatment options for those with rapid heartbeat include:
- Prescription Medication – anti-arrhythmia medications may be prescribed to you by your doctor in the event you’re experiencing a rapid heart rate. Medications may also be used if you have an atrial fibrillation or abnormal heart rate that increases your chances for a stroke.
- AV node ablation – this is a medical procedure that is used to manage rapid heart rate in patients who have already had a pacemaker implanted. It uses radio frequency to alter the tissue around the atrioventricular node. This stops rapid heart rate at the source so it never reaches the heart to begin with.
If you have sick sinus syndrome, you should seek the advice of your doctor, especially if you’re experiencing the symptoms noted above. Treatment options are available and will alleviate if not eliminate your symptoms altogether.