Sick Sinus Syndrome

Sick sinus syndrome (SSS) is a type of abnormal heartbeat, or arrhythmia. In fact, it is a collection of arrhythmias. If you have SSS, you may have episodes when your heart beats very fast, very slowly, or stops beating for a short while. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and scary, but our electrophysiologists will work with you to find a treatment option that may reduce your symptoms and even stop your arrhythmia.

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 SSS, your SA node no longer controls your heart's rate and rhythm.

Symptoms of Sick Sinus Syndrome

You may have SSS with few or no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exertion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain

What causes sick sinus syndrome?

The SA node can lose function as we age, resulting in sick sinus syndrome. Other causes of SSS include growths inside your heart, infections that affect your heart, or drug side effects or heart surgery that damages your SA node. 

SSS affects men and women equally. It can occur at any age, but most often begins around age 68. Doctors see SSS in about one of every 600 people who have heart disease and are older than age 65. You may have an increased risk for SSS if:

  • You have another type of heart disease
  • You take drugs for heart conditions or high blood pressure
  • You have a history of heart surgery
  • You were born with heart disease and needed open heart surgery
  • SSS has been passed down through your family

How do I know if I have sick sinus syndrome?

Your doctor may suspect SSS based on your symptoms, but they are common in many other diseases. To diagnose your condition, your doctor may perform an electrocardiogram (ECG), a non-invasive test 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:

  • A stress test
  • A Holter monitor, a recorder you wear for over 24 hours that takes an ECG
  • Electrophysiologic testing, a hospital procedure that involves threading catheters into your heart through a vein in your thigh
  • Echocardiogram or ultrasound of your heart, which checks for structural heart problems

How is sick sinus syndrome treated?

You may have SSS without symptoms and not need treatment. However, as symptoms persist, you and your doctor may decide together to move forward with treatment. Your electrophysiologist may recommend a blood thinner because there is an increased risk for blood clots forming in your heart and causing a stroke.

For more severe SSS, your doctor may also recommend a pacemaker implant. This is a small, battery-powered device that takes the place of your SA node and regulates your heartbeat. Many people live healthy, normal lives with a pacemaker. You and your electrophysiologist will select a pacemaker that will work best with your lifestyle. Pacemaker Implantation Procedure

For more information on arrhythmia or to schedule an appointment, call us at 314-996-9627 or contact us online.

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