Electrical signals control the beating of your heart. They tell your heart muscle when to contract, a process known as conduction. The normal timing of heartbeats is generated in the upper chamber of the heart (atria) in a structure called the sinus node. When you have heart block, there is interference with the electrical signals that usually move from the atria to the ventricles. These signals tell your heart when to beat. This is known as a conduction disorder. If the electrical signals can’t move from your atria to your ventricles, they can’t tell your ventricles to contract and pump blood correctly.
In most cases of heart block, the signals slow down, but do not completely stop. Heart block is categorized as first-, second-, or third-degree:
If you are born with heart block, you have congenital heart block. Either a condition your mother had during her pregnancy, or heart problems you were born with, cause this condition.
For most, heart block develops as you get older as the wires that connect the top and bottom of the heart can develop fibrosis and eventually fail. Sometimes this may happen due to advancing age. Any process which can damage these heart wires can result in heart block. Coronary artery disease with and without a heart attack is one of the most common causes of heart block. Cardiomyopathies which are diseases that weaken the heart muscle can also result in wire damage. Any disease that can infiltrate the heart such as sarcoidosis and certain cancers or any disease that results in heart inflammation such as certain autoimmune disease or infections can result in heart block. Electrolyte abnormalities especially high potassium levels can also result in wire failure.
If you are born with heart block, you have congenital heart block. Either a condition your mother had during her pregnancy, or heart problems you were born with, cause this condition. Many instances of heart block occur because of some other condition or event such as:
Symptoms depend on the type of heart block you have:First-degree heart block may have no bothersome symptoms.
Third-degree heart block, which can be fatal, might cause
To diagnose your condition, your healthcare provider will consider:
You treatment depends on the type of heart block you have:
In addition, your medical team may make changes in any medicines you're taking.
With heart block, complications may include fainting with injury, low blood pressure, and damage to other internal organs, and cardiac arrest.
Pregnant mothers who are known to have an autoimmune disease may be able to receive certain treatment that may reduce the risk of heart block in their babies.
Prevention of heart block focuses mainly on managing the risk factors. A healthy lifestyle contributes to overall good health — including heart health. Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and don’t smoke. Understanding the risks of your medicines and reviewing them with your healthcare provider can reduce the risk of medicine-induced heart block.
Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for taking medicine and using a pacemaker, if that applies to you. Also, always keep follow-up appointments to make sure your treatment is on track.
To improve your quality of life with a pacemaker, you may need to:
Seek immediate medical attention for these symptoms:
If you have sudden cardiac arrest, you will obviously not be able to seek care for yourself. It is critically important to make sure the people you see on a regular basis know what to do in an emergency. Calling 911 is the most important first step.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200