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Sick Sinus Syndrome

Sick sinus syndrome is a group of heart conditions that affect the sinus node — the heart’s pacemaker. The sinus node produces electrical impulses to keep the heartbeat steady. Sick sinus syndrome occurs when the sinus node becomes dysfunctional, resulting in an abnormal heart rhythm pattern.  

  • Types

    • Sinus bradycardia — the heart beats too slowly
    • Sinus tachycardia — the heart beats too fast
    • Sinus pauses — the heartbeat temporarily pauses or stops
    • Bradycardia-tachycardia — alternating slow and fast heartbeats
  • Symptoms

    • Chest pain
    • Confusion
    • Fatigue
    • Heart palpitations
    • Light-headedness and fainting
    • Shortness of breath, especially with physical exertion
  • Prevention

    Many cases of sick sinus syndrome aren’t preventable, but heart disease may trigger the condition. Commit to healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating a nutritious diet, getting enough physical activity and not smoking, to prevent heart disease.

  • Risk Factors

    • Damage to the sinus node during heart surgery
    • Genetic mutations
    • Heart conditions, such as coronary heart disease, aortic valve disease and mitral valve disease
    • Medications used to treat abnormal heart rhythms or high blood pressure
    • Advancing age
  • Diagnosis

    • Electrocardiography (ECG). This test records the electrical activity of the heart to show any abnormal heart rhythms. During an ECG, your healthcare provider will attach small, painless patches called electrodes to various locations on the body. The electrodes are connected to a machine that monitors the heart’s activity. Your provider will review the test results to look for signs of sick sinus syndrome.
    • Holter monitoring. Similar to an ECG, a Holter monitor uses electrodes to record the heart’s rhythms. The portable monitor is worn longer — for one to three days during daily activities. A Holter monitor will detect any slow heart rates or alternating slow and fast heartbeats.
  • Treatment

    • Your provider may ask you to discontinue use of certain medications that worsen abnormal heart rhythms. 
    • Adults with advanced forms of the condition may require an artificial pacemaker. A pacemaker is a device that is surgically implanted to keep your heart beating at a normal pace. Many patients who receive a pacemaker have an excellent outcome.
  • Follow-up Care

    • Keep regular appointments with your physician to monitor progression of the disease and any complications from medications.
    • Follow aftercare instructions closely if you receive an artificial pacemaker. You may need to wear a medical ID bracelet and avoid machines and devices that cause a strong magnetic field.