Menu   WellSpan Health

Health Library

Health Library

Sick Sinus Syndrome

Sick sinus syndrome (SSS) is a type of abnormal heartbeat, or arrhythmia. If you have SSS, you may have episodes when your heart beats very slowly, stops beating for a short while, or beats very rapidly. SSS is not just one disease, but a collection of arrhythmias.

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.

Illustration showing a cross section of the heart and the electrical system

Possible causes of SSS are many. The most common is a gradual loss of SA node function that comes with age. Other possible causes include drug side effects, growths inside your heart, infections that affect your heart, and heart surgery that damages your SA node.


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

Who's at risk

SSS affects men and women equally. It can occur at any age, but most often begins at about 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


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

  • An ECG while you walk on a treadmill

  • A Holter monitor, a recorder you wear for over 24 hours that takes an ECG

  • An event recorder, a recorder you wear over several days that samples your heart rate

  • 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


You may have SSS without symptoms and not need treatment. However, if you do have symptoms and need treatment, there are options, such as:

  • Medication change. Your doctor may change your medications if you are taking any drugs known to cause SSS.

  • Pacemaker. The most common treatment for people with SSS symptoms is a pacemaker implant. This is a small, battery-powered device that takes the place of your SA node and regulates your heartbeat. A doctor places a pacemaker under the skin of your chest during an outpatient surgical procedure.

  • Blood thinners. Because there is an increased risk for blood clots forming in your heart and causing a stroke, you may need to take a blood thinner as a preventive step.


SSS tends to start slowly, but gradually worsens over time. When your heart beats too slowly or too quickly, it can lead to complications:

  • You may be injured if you pass out during an arrhythmia.

  • A clot may form in the upper chambers of your heart, break loose, and travel to your brain, causing a stroke.

  • Your heart may get too weak to move blood efficiently through your body, resulting in heart failure.

  • If you need to have a pacemaker, you may have complications from the procedure, such as infection, bleeding, or a collapsed lung. 

Living with SSS

The aging of your SA node treatment causes most cases of SSS, and, of course, there’s no way to prevent that. But you can help prevent SSS complications by learning as much as you can about the disease and working closely with your cardiologist to find the best treatment.

You can also make healthy lifestyle changes:

  • Don't smoke.

  • Work with your doctor to keep conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure under control.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Get regular exercise.

  • Tell your doctor if you experience any SSS symptoms.

Sick Sinus Syndrome - WellSpan Health

Author: Iliades, Chris
Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F., III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Last Review Date: 2013-01-02T00:00:00
Published Date: 2014-04-29T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2013-01-11T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.