Most of us have had the luxury of not having to think about our heart. It keeps our blood circulating for years and we don’t even know it’s working.

As we grow older and start to experience common signs of aging, it is worth knowing what to look out for, so we can detect problems at an early stage before serious consequences occur.

Let’s take a closer look at the heart and one particular problem you could encounter as it ages.

What is Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia?

Our heart usually beats at a steady pace. We can feel our pulse at our wrist or neck and expect that the heartbeats are generally very regular. The heart rate (how fast it beats) depends on many things. Above all, the heart is a “team player,” as it responds to signals it receives from the brain. Your brain is continuously adjusting your heart rate to match your body’s needs, and sometimes the heart rate can change quickly, in a matter of seconds, because of signals from the brain.

The Sinus Node is the structure in the heart that gives rise to each normal beat. The sinus node responds quickly to brain signals, but slight changes in the sinus node rate can result in a variable pulse rate that speeds up and slows down slightly from one second to another. This normal physiologic variation in the heart rate is known as Sinus Arrhythmia.  Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia occurs when your heart rate is aligned with your breathing. When you inhale, your heart rate increases, and when you exhale, your heart rate decreases.

This normal finding is completely harmless and tends to occur more often in children, teens and young adults than it does in older people. Most young people who experience this phenomenon eventually grow out of it.  Most people do not even notice that their heart rate is changing constantly, but rarely patients may complain of feeling palpitations due to the frequent variations in the heart rate. This diagnosis can be confirmed with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). It does not require any treatment other than reassurance.

Getting to Know Your Sinus Rhythm

To maintain a consistent lifestyle that promotes a healthy heart, it is worth knowing as much as you can about how and why our hearts do what they do for us.

Let’s get to know a little bit about sinus rhythm.

1. What Is “Sinus Rhythm”?

The sinus node is the electrical structure in the top of the right atrium. It “fires” or generates an electrical signal that starts each normal heartbeat.  This structure sets the pace of the heartbeat, and is often referred to as the “natural pacemaker” of the heart. It normally fires 60 to 80 times each minute (or about once every second) at rest but responds to your body’s needs.

2. Characteristics of a Normal Sinus Rhythm

It is easy to measure your pulse and determine when things are not working as they should.

When the sinus node fires at a normal rate and your heart rate falls between 60-100 beats per minute (BPM) it’s referred to as a “Normal Sinus Rhythm” or NSR. However, it is worth remembering that this guideline is different for children. For newborns, the ideal heart rate falls between 110-150 BPM while a two-year-old should be experiencing a heart rate between 85-125 BPM.

3. What a Normal Sinus Rhythm Looks Like on Paper

To see if your rhythm is normal you need to have an electrocardiogram (ECG).  The ECG machine is an electrical amplifier that picks up the tiny electrical signals that our heart produces as it beats and makes them large enough to see. It can then print them out on a standard page called a 12-lead ECG.  It’s easy for a trained professional to look at an ECG and recognize NSR and even sinus arrhythmia. If you would like to learn more about how to read an ECG, you can check out ECGAcademy.com.

What is Non-Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia?

Now that we know what to look for in a normal, healthy heart, let’s explore the alternative. We have established that Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia is normal and naturally occurring.

Non-Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia is abnormal and not as common.

  • Characteristics: Non-Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia is when the sinus node beats in an irregular fashion that is not associated with the respiratory system. It is most commonly seen in elderly patients. It may be a sign of early failure of the sinus node. It usually does not cause symptoms, and does not require any specific therapy as long as the person feels okay, but it should be followed carefully with ECGs.
  • When to Seek Medical Advice: Non-Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia can be indicative of something more serious, such as early heart disease. If you have symptoms of palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or find that you cannot exercise without becoming fatigued easily, then further evaluation is warranted. If you happen to notice an irregular pulse, bring it to your doctor’s attention so he can check your ECG and determine the cause of the irregularity.
  • Keeping It Healthy: While it is inevitable that our bodies will age, there are preventative measures we can take to avoid issues like heart disease.

Linda Crampton of Calorie Bee explains that maintaining a healthy diet, which focuses on keeping our cholesterol down, can do wonders for our heart. She discusses how healthy oils like olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fat, is beneficial for our hearts and cholesterol levels.

Making changes in our lifestyle to keep our hearts healthy can make all the difference as our body’s age and don’t function as smoothly as they used to. Taking preventative measures as early as possible is your best chance at keeping a healthy heart and sinus node – even well into old age.

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