Heart Block

What is Heart Block?

Heart block is a condition in which there is an interruption in the electrical signals that causes the heart rate to slow down. Slow heart rates can lead to serious health risks such as a stroke or heart attack. Heart block may have sudden onset with serious symptoms, however more often there is no warning of the condition. Heart block is classified into three grades depending on the degree of disruption of the electrical signals.

Types of Heart Block

  • First-degree Heart Block: Signs or symptoms are usually not present and abnormal electrical signals are just detected on an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading.
  • Second-degree Heart Block (Mobitz Type I and Type II): Here the heart's electrical impulses slow down significantly and regular heart rate is affected.
  • Third-degree Heart Block: Complete interruption of electrical conduction results in the heart having no coordinated contractions.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Block

The most common signs and symptoms of heart block include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Palpitations or feeling a rapid or fluttering heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosis of Heart Block

Diagnosis of heart block generally begins with a physical examination. The doctor will take your medical history and check your heart rate, rhythm, and blood pressure. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is typically used to diagnose and determine the severity of the heart block. Other tests such as echocardiogram, Holter monitor, and cardiac catheterization may be recommended to determine the cause of the blockage.

Treatments for Heart Block

The type of treatment for heart block depends on the cause, severity, and type of blockage. Treatment options for heart block include:

  • Medications: Medications such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and cardiac glycosides may be recommended to help treat heart block.
  • Pacemaker: A pacemaker is a small device that is surgically inserted under the skin of the chest and sends electrical signals to the heart to ensure a regular heart rate.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct certain types of heart block.