Heart Block Adult
The heart is made up of 4 chambers. The 2 upper chambers are the atria and the 2 lower chambers are the ventricles. The sinoatrial (SA) node, located near the top of the right atrium, produces electrical signals that are sent to the atrioventricular (AV) node. The AV node then sends the signals to the ventricles, which are the primary pumping chambers of the heart. The electrical signals are transmitted smoothly from the atria to the ventricles, causing rhythmic muscle contractions that pump blood to the rest of the body.
There are 3 types of heart block, ranging from mild to serious:
- First-degree heart block—This is the mildest form of heart block. In this case, the electrical signals from the SA node move more slowly than normal to the AV node, but all signals reach the ventricles. There are usually no symptoms, and heartbeat and rhythm are normal. This type of heart block is often found in well-trained athletes.
Second-degree heart block—A second-degree heart block means that some of the electrical signals are not reaching the ventricles. This causes dropped beats. There are two types of second-degree heart block:
- Type I second-degree heart block, also called Mobitz Type I or Wenckebachs AV block—The electrical signals become increasingly delayed with each heartbeat, causing a beat to be missed.
- Type II second-degree heart block, also called Mobitz Type II—In this type of heart block, some of the electrical signals do not reach the ventricles. This is less common, but more serious.
- Third-degree, or complete, heart block—This is the most serious type of heart block. In this condition, no electrical signals are able to reach the ventricles. The ventricles compensate by contracting on their own, but at a much slower rate than is safe for the heart to maintain full function.
Third-degree heart block is very serious and requires immediate care from your doctor. First- and second-degree heart block should be diagnosed by your physician, who will help you determine the best course of treatment, if any.
|Anatomy of the Heart|
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Heart block often occurs when there is underlying heart disease. The causes of heart block include:
- History of heart disease, such as heart attack, heart failure, valvular problems, and endocarditis
- Hereditary heart defect
- Use of certain types of medications, such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, or digitalis
The course of treatment will depend on the type of heart block you have. Generally, treatment is not necessary for first-degree heart block.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. A pacemaker may be inserted for some cases of second-degree heart block, and all cases of third-degree heart block. A pacemaker is a device that generates electrical signals to stimulate heart muscle contractions.
To help reduce your chance of heart block:
- Obtain treatment for any condition that may cause heart problems or heart disease. This will help prevent heart block.
- If possible, avoid medications that can cause heart block.
- Maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Get regular exercise, eat a heart-healthy diet, and minimize stress.
- Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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a (Atrioventricular [AV] Block—Adult)
American Heart Association http://www.heart.org
Heart Rhythm Society http://www.hrsonline.org
Canadian Cardiovascular Society http://www.ccs.ca
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca
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Gregoratos G. Indications and recommendations for pacemaker therapy. Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(8):1563-1570.
Heart block. Heart Rhythm Society website. Available at: http://www.hrsonline.org/Patient-Resources/Heart-Diseases-Disorders/Heart-Block#axzz2OHs4EXZq. Accessed March 22, 2013.