Sinus Node Dysfunction

Matthew Kendall Hawks, Madison L.B. Paul, Omojo Odihi Malu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Sinus node dysfunction, previously known as sick sinus syndrome, describes disorders related to abnormal conduction and propagation of electrical impulses at the sinoatrial node. An abnormal atrial rate may result in the inability to meet physiologic demands, especially during periods of stress or physical activity. Sinus node dysfunction may occur at any age, but is usually more common in older persons. The causes of sinus node dysfunction are intrinsic (e.g., degenerative idiopathic fibrosis, cardiac remodeling) or extrinsic (e.g., medications, metabolic abnormalities) to the sinoatrial node. Many extrinsic causes are reversible. Electrocardiography findings include sinus bradycardia, sinus pauses or arrest, sinoatrial exit block, chronotropic incompetence, or alternating bradycardia and tachycardia (i.e., bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome). Clinical symptoms result from the hypoperfusion of end organs. About 50% of patients present with cerebral hypoperfusion (e.g., syncope, presyncope, lightheadedness, cerebrovascular accident). Other symptoms include palpitations, decreased physical activity tolerance, angina, muscular fatigue, or oliguria. A diagnosis is made by directly correlating symptoms with a bradyarrhythmia and eliminating potentially reversible extrinsic causes. Heart rate monitoring using electrocardiography or ambulatory cardiac event monitoring is performed based on the frequency of symptoms. An exercise stress test should be performed when symptoms are associated with exertion. The patient's inability to reach a heart rate of at least 80% of their predicted maximum (220 beats per minute - age) may indicate chronotropic incompetence, which is present in 50% of patients with sinus node dysfunction. First-line treatment for patients with confirmed sinus node dysfunction is permanent pacemaker placement with atrial-based pacing and limited ventricular pacing when necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-185
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Family Physician
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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