Sick sinus syndrome, also called Sinus node dysfunction, is a group of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) presumably caused by a malfunction of the sinus node, the heart's primary pacemaker. Bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome is a variant of sick sinus syndrome where atrial flutter and fibrillation alternate with prolonged periods of asystole.
Sick sinus syndrome may also be associated with tachycardias (fast heart rate) such as paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) and atrial fibrillation. Tachycardias that occur with sick sinus syndrome are characterized by a long pause after the tachycardia.
Abnormal rhythms are often caused or worsened by medications such as digitalis, calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, sympatholytic medications, and anti-arrhythmics. Disorders that cause scarring, degeneration, or damage to the conduction system can cause sick sinus syndrome, including sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, Chagas' disease, and cardiomyopathies.
Sick sinus syndrome is more common in elderly adults, where the cause is often a non-specific, scar-like degeneration of the cardiac conduction system. Cardiac surgery, especially to the atria, is a common cause of sick sinus syndrome in children.
Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and aortic and mitral valve diseases may be associated with sick sinus syndrome, although this association may only be incidental.
Electrophysiologic tests are no longer used for diagnostic purposes because of their low specificity and sensitivity. Cardioinhibitory and vasodepressor forms of sick sinus syndrome may be revealed by tilt table testing.
Bradyarrhythmias are well controlled with pacemakers, while tachyarrhythmias respond well to medical therapy.
However, because both bradyarrhythmias and tachyarrhythmias may be present, drugs to control tachyarrhythmia may exacerbate bradyarrhythmia. Therefore, a pacemaker is implanted before drug therapy is begun for the tachyarrhythmia.