Electrical signals control the beating of your heart. They tell your heart muscle when to contract, a process known as conduction. When you have heart block, there is interference with the electrical signals that usually move from the top chambers of your heart (the atria) to the bottom chambers of your heart (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.
Many instances of heart block occur because of some other condition or event. A heart attack, which damages your heart muscle, is the most common cause. Surgery, medications, and diseases such as rheumatic fever or sarcoidosis are also possible causes.
Symptoms depend on the type of heart block you have:
Third-degree heart block, which can be fatal, might cause
To diagnose your condition, your health care provider will consider:
You treatment depends on the type of heart block you have:
In addition, your medical team may make changes in any prescription medications you're taking.
Complications are problems your condition causes. With heart block, these could include the development of other types of arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, or cardiac arrest. Some cases of heart block also can be fatal.
You may sometimes prevent heart block — in your baby, for example. If you are a woman with an autoimmune disease and give birth, your baby has an increased risk of developing heart block. Tests during your pregnancy, however, can tell your health care provider whether your baby needs medication to reduce the chances of severe heart block.
It's also important to follow your health care provider’s orders exactly when you take medications that increase your risk for heart block, or when you’re recovering from a heart attack or heart disease. A healthy lifestyle contributes to overall good health — including heart health. Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and don’t smoke.
Follow your health care provider’s recommendations for taking medication 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 experience 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 health care provider:
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