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Sick sinus syndrome is a type of abnormal heartbeat, or arrhythmia. If you have sick sinus, you may have episodes when your heart beats very slowly, stops beating for a short while, or beats very rapidly. Sick sinus syndrome is not just one disease, but a collection of arrhythmias.
Normally, a structure in your heart called the sinoatrial (SA) node regulates your heartbeat. Your SA node should keep your heart beating at the right pace. If you have sick sinus syndrome, your SA node no longer controls your heart's rate and rhythm.
Possible causes of sick sinus syndrome are many. The most common cause is a gradual loss of SA node function that comes with age. Other possible causes include drug side effects, growths inside your heart, infections that affect your heart, and heart surgery that damages your SA node.
Sick sinus syndrome affects men and women equally. It can occur at any age, but most often begins at about age 68. Health care providers see it in about 1 out of every 600 people who have heart disease and are older than age 65. You may have an increased risk for sick sinus syndrome if:
You may have sick sinus syndrome with few or no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
Your health care provider may suspect sick sinus syndrome based on your symptoms, but they are common in many other diseases. To diagnose your condition, your health care provider will perform an electrocardiogram (ECG), a machine that records your heart's rate and rhythm. If you do not have symptoms at the time of your ECG, it may look normal.
Other possible tests include:
You may have sick sinus syndrome without symptoms and not need treatment. However, if you do have symptoms and need treatment, there are options, such as:
Sick sinus syndrome tends to start slowly, but gradually worsens over time. When your heart beats too slowly or too quickly, it can lead to complications:
The aging of your SA node causes most cases of sick sinus syndrome, and there’s no way to prevent that. But you can help prevent complications by learning as much as you can about the disease and working closely with your cardiologist to find the best treatment.
You can also make healthy lifestyle changes:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.