Can Anxiety Cause Short PR intervals? Learn beyond the Basics

It’s natural to feel alarmed after a visit to the doctor, especially when anxious. If your PR interval came out shorter than usual, you must be wondering why. 

So, can anxiety cause short PR intervals?

Yes, anxiety can sometimes be the reason for shorter PR durations. The catecholamines in the body influence the changes in PR intervals. When one experiences anxiety, the sympathetic tone goes up. This change triggers the short PR interval. 

The readings may also change for other factors besides anxiety. In this article, you will learn more about these other factors. Besides, you’ll also get an overall idea about some treatment options. So, it’s best to keep reading till the end. 

Can Anxiety Cause Short PR Intervals?

Anxiety may at times be the contributing factor for shorter PR intervals. 

The ventricles may contract prematurely and lead to shorter than usual PR durations. In many documented cases, anxiety was a variable to alter ECG readings, such as PR intervals. 

What’s odd is anxiety can affect the electrical readings even in healthy individuals. 

But, shorter PR intervals may also indicate other conditions like Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, Lown-Ganong-Levine Syndrome, or a junctional rhythm. 

The electroencephalogram readings vary for each individual. 

You may even get different ones every day. So, anxiety may sometimes be the reason for abnormal PR intervals. 

It is generally not the only cause when the intervals are short several times. But it’s not something to worry about if the ECG readings don’t show consistent short PR intervals. 

In any case, you should go for your doctor’s advice and diagnosis. Despite finding sources linking anxiety with short PR intervals, it’s not the best idea to act on self-diagnosis. 

To understand why anxiety may be causing shorter PR durations, you have to know how it works. In the next section, you’ll learn about PR intervals but in a more detailed manner. 

How to Distinguish between PR Intervals?

PR intervals refer to the initial part of the heartbeat. It gives the readings in milliseconds or seconds. These represent how well electric impulses are generated within the heart. Mainly there are 3 types of intervals. The understanding of each type is described below.

Normal PR Intervals

A PR interval between 120 to 200 milliseconds is normal. This reading corresponds to four to five ECG squares in print. Besides, it shows that electric impulses are running smoothly between the SA node to the ventricles. 

However, the “normal” interval ensures the healthy functioning of the atria. It only indicates that the impulses are passing the right way. 

Even in tachycardia or arrhythmia, the PR interval can be within the normal range. If it shows abnormal readings, you need to go through other tests to find its cause. 

The bottom line is, a normal PR interval only indicates that the electrical impulses are moving as they should. That is, through the heart’s upper chambers.

Short PR Intervals 

A short PR level is any reading below 120 milliseconds. There can be several reasons why it happens. It can also be a common occurrence among young athletes. 

The symptoms of a short PR level are often not present. Different conditions can make you experience a variety of symptoms. For example, Wolf-Parkinson-White patients may experience palpitations and dizziness. 

These symptoms typically occur because the heart doesn’t efficiently pump the blood to the body. 

Prolonged PR Interval 

The PR intervals can be longer than the normal range, similar to shorter durations. It occurs when the electric impulses don’t travel efficiently through the atria. 

It mostly happens because the conduction delays at the sinoatrial node. This phenomenon is typically called first-degree AV block. When that happens, the PR interval is within a range of 200 to 220 milliseconds. 

Though an interval over 300 milliseconds is rare, it can happen sometimes. In such cases, the patient may need a permanent pacemaker. 

The risk of prolonged PR interval increases with age. Similar to short PR intervals, its cause can mean different things. And so, the treatment options also vary. 

Treatment of Short PR Intervals

There are some treatment options for short PR intervals. You know now that anxiety can alter PR intervals in a few cases. 

If the readings display short intervals multiple times, the doctor may diagnose you with one of the conditions you’ve read above. 

So, treatment options are for conditions like Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and Lown-Ganong-Levine syndrome. There may be a few drug options available. But medical professionals generally do not go for those. 

The drugs typically try to prolong the PR intervals. And so, they may prolong the PR intervals than the normal range. However, doctors do use some beta-blockers depending on the patient’s condition. Keep reading to learn more about the most notable ones. 

Radio-frequency Ablation 

This treatment option is the most popular choice for an irregular heartbeat. Imagine your heart has an electrical problem. You can think of radiofrequency ablation as a rewiring fix to this problem. 

As short PR intervals happen because of the heart’s pumping inefficiency, radio-frequency ablation restores the efficiency. In this procedure, the physician inserts a narrow catheter, which targets the problematic areas. 

Ablation means destroying these problematic areas. Hence, this method is alternatively known as the catheter ablation technique. This technique eliminates the abnormal cells that cause irregular heartbeat. 

Consequently, the shorter PR intervals should also return to normal levels after you’re done. The procedure is quick and may only need a couple of hours. 

You may need to get a few sessions depending on where the problem lies in your heart. In the United States, about 2.3 million people suffer from atrial fibrillation. It’s this weird feeling of dropping in your heart. 

In most cases, anxiety is the reason for it. Research finds an association between atrial fibrillation and short PR intervals. So, radio-frequency ablation is very beneficial for those with this condition. 

This technique is also effective for junctional tachycardia and premature ventricular contractions. It doesn’t need general anesthesia and has relatively low risks.  

Cardioversion

In cardioversion, the doctors use an instrument to return the irregular heart rate to a normal rhythm. The treatment can be of two types: chemical and electrical. 

Medical professionals may use chemical cardioversion if returning the irregular heartbeat to normal isn’t necessary. The medicine will usually pass through an IV into your body. Sometimes, you might have to take it orally. 

Electrical cardioversion is the most suitable option for emergencies. Doctors will use paddles to give you shock and correct your heartbeat. 

Generally, you’ll only need one. The procedure takes place when you’re under sedation. There may be some complications with this treatment option, but it will be rare. Besides, the doctors will constantly monitor you. 

Electrical cardioversion is successful in more than 90% of the cases. Chemical conversion is usually effective within a few hours. Doctors will only suggest electric cardioversion when the chemical one doesn’t work. 

You might feel a bit alarmed after learning about the treatments. But I suggest you stop right there immediately. Typically, you won’t need these treatments if you only get short PR intervals a few times. 

However, if your diagnosis is a major condition, you will naturally need a permanent fix. Medical interventions this article mentions will be necessary for those cases. 

Besides, if the doctors say that your PR interval was short because of anxiety, you might need anxiety medications. But even for those, you will need a proper prescription and diagnosis. 

What Other Factors Cause Short PR Intervals?

As I’ve mentioned throughout this article, there are several causes of short PR intervals. Short PR intervals can be because of junctional rhythm, anxiety, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and Lown-Ganong-Levine Syndrome. 

Besides these, it can also be for an enlarged heart, stimulants, and heart valve disorders. Let’s learn about these in more detail. 

Junctional Rhythm

Junctional rhythm is a condition where the heart has a pacing fault. The electric impulses responsible for heart contractions start at the wrong region. 

Heart rhythms happen when the electric impulses go to the SA node. If the SA node doesn’t fire, an area called the atrioventricular junction assumes the pacemaker’s role. 

And so, the junctional rhythm occurs. The symptoms of this condition can be vague. So, it may be easy to miss. 

To name a few, it may include palpitations, chest heaviness, shortness of breath, and weakness. 

Enlarged Heart 

An enlarged heart may be due to heart valve problems or high blood pressure. It can’t pump oxygenated blood as efficiently as it should. 

The symptoms may include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and dizziness, among others. 

As you can tell by now, these symptoms seem to have close associations with short PR intervals. 

Pre-Excitation Syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and Lown-Ganong-Levine syndrome are two typical examples of the pre-excitation syndrome. The electrical impulses bypass the AV node in both cases. 

Generally, the AV node delays the electrical impulses from reaching the ventricles. So, when the electric impulses skip the AV node, the ventricles activate sooner. 

Consequently, this depolarization translates into the ECG reading, causing a short PR interval.  

Stimulants 

In the United States, most people rely on caffeine to function. Caffeine, incidentally, also happens to be a stimulant. So, it isn’t surprising when research found that caffeine or stimulants can alter ECG readings. 

A 2014 study compared ECG readings before and after the consumption of caffeine in healthy individuals. The findings suggested significant changes in the ECG readings of a healthy adult after consuming caffeine. 

Consuming high doses of caffeine may influence ECG readings. However, moderate amounts of it aren’t likely to affect them as much. 

The sensitivity of caffeine depends on each individual. Depending on your sensitivity levels, the PR interval may be short. 

Whatever causes short PR intervals, you must consult a licensed physician. Besides, there may likely be more than one reason for the short PR intervals besides anxiety. 

In these times, productive culture is the most dominating one. This culture puts several people under a lot of stress. 

In turn, stress can induce several changes in your heart. It may also be the root of your anxiety. 

Whatever the reason is, short PR intervals are treatable. Besides the ones you learned about here, several other conditions may cause irregular heartbeat. 

FAQs 

Question: Can anxiety cause irregular heartbeats?

Answer: People with anxiety may experience irregular heart rhythms. The sympathetic nervous system may activate the autonomic nervous system in a stressful situation. So, it may cause you to feel like your heart is racing or skipping a beat. 

Question: Can you see the anxiety on ECG?

Answer: Yes, an ECG can detect anxiety. Every individual has a unique heart rhythm. Any changes in your heart rhythm that anxiety causes will affect the ECG. 

Question: How do I stop heart palpitations from anxiety?

Answer: Meditations, yoga, exercise, and relaxation response may help manage the palpitations. Besides these, some breathing exercises may also help. Relaxing and tensing muscles may also help with palpitations. 

Final Words 

So, can anxiety cause short PR intervals? In short, yes, it can. Anxiety levels can alter the PR intervals in an individual. However, it’s typically not the only cause. A visit to the doctor’s office will tell you why you might be experiencing them. 

If you get diagnosed with a heart condition, don’t panic. You can remain healthy in the long run if you make some lifestyle changes. So, don’t worry, and follow the doctor’s advice. Hope to see you soon.

Munira Binte Hasan

Munira Binte Hasan

Munira is an aspiring psychologist from the University of Dhaka. She loves reviewing and writing content. In her free time, she loves to read or listen to music. She believes in advocating mental health issues and healthy expression of emotions.

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