Heart Block

What is heart block? — Heart block is a condition that affects the electrical system that controls the heartbeat. Mild types of heart block can cause your heart to beat more slowly than normal or to skip beats. More serious types can cause your heart to stop beating. Without emergency treatment, serious heart block can be fatal.

What causes heart block? — Heart block happens when the electrical signals that tell the heart to beat either get slowed down or stopped. Most people with heart block get it from a disease, surgery, or medicine that damaged their heart. In rare cases, people are born with heart block.

What are the symptoms of heart block? — The symptoms depend on the type of heart block a person has. There are 3 types of heart block:

First degree – This is the mildest type of heart block. Often, people with this type have no symptoms.

Second degree – This type is more serious than first degree. Symptoms include:

Fainting

Feeling dizzy

Feeling tired

Trouble breathing

Chest pain

Third degree – This is the most serious type of heart block. It can cause the same symptoms as second degree, but they will be more severe. In some cases, third degree heart block can be life threatening.

Is there a test for heart block? — Yes. Your doctor or nurse will probably do a test called an electrocardiogram (also called an “ECG” or “EKG”). This test measures the electrical activity in your heart (figure 1).

You might also need other tests to see if another condition is causing your slow heartbeat.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — If you have trouble breathing or have chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes, call for an ambulance (in the US and Canada, dial 9-1-1).

If you do not have these problems, but you often notice your heart beating slowly or skipping beats, talk to your doctor or nurse.

How is heart block treated? — The treatment depends on the type of heart block you have. Often, people who have first degree heart block do not need treatment. But people who have third degree heart block and some people who have second degree heart block need a pacemaker. A pacemaker is a device that goes under the skin near a person’s heart. It sends electrical signals to the heart that help it beat at a normal rate.

Can heart block be prevented? — People who have heart disease are more likely to get heart block. Doing things that keep your heart healthy can help prevent heart disease. This includes:

Eating a healthy diet. This involves eating lots of fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products, but not a lot of meat or fatty foods.

Walking or doing a physical activity on most days of the week.

Losing weight, if you are overweight.

   

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