A normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A person who is very athletic, however, may have a heart rate as low as 40 beats per minute. According to Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic, a lower heart rate in a healthy adult usually means that heart function is more efficient and the person has better cardiovascular fitness. Elderly people may experience a heartbeat that is too fast or too slow.
How the Heart Works
The heart is a muscle that pumps blood through your circulatory system. The pumping action is created by the electrical system of the heart, which triggers your heartbeat. Electrical impulses are sent through a pathway in the heart. The American Heart Association states that in a 70-year life span, a person's heart beats more than 2.5 billion times. Each day the heart pumps on average about 2,000 gallons of blood and beats 100,000 times.
Any change in the normal sequence of the electrical impulses of the heart can cause an abnormal heartbeat, which is called an arrhythmia. Sometimes arrhythmias are very brief, but if arrhythmias last longer, they will result in a heart rate that is too fast or too slow. Sometimes the heart will pump less effectively as a result of an abnormal heart rhythm. A heart rate that is too slow is called bradycardia. Tachycardia is a heart rate that is too fast.
Bradycardia is a heart rate below 50 heats a minute. The elderly are more prone to bradycardia. A slow heart rate is not always dangerous. It may cause such symptoms as fainting, dizziness, light-headedness and fatigue. If the pumping action of the heart is severely depressed, then the blood does not circulate as it should and organ damage may result. Treatment may include the use of a cholinergic blocking agent such as atropine. If medication does not regulate the heartbeat, then an artificial pacemaker may be surgically implanted.
A heart that beats more than 100 times per minute is a condition known as tachycardia and is most prevalent in the elderly. According to medrounds.org, 88 percent of those over the age of 70 have experienced a type of fast heart rate called sinus tachycardia. Some circumstances can bring about this kind of fast heart rate including shock, pain, anemia, exercise and strong emotion. Some beverages and medications may also cause a rapid heart rate including coffee, tea, alcohol, epinephrine, isoproterenol and atropine. The symptoms of tachycardia include dizziness, heart palpitations and sometimes chest pain.