WellSpan Home

Heart Block

Topic Overview

Heart block refers to an abnormality in the way electricity passes through the normal electrical pathways of the heart. The abnormality "blocks" the electrical impulse from continuing through the normal pathways and usually results in a slower heart rate.

What causes heart block?

Heart block can be caused by:

Heart block is more common in older people and may be the result of age and a combination of factors listed above. Heart block can occur in people who have had a heart attack. When heart attacks cause heart block, it often goes away on its own. But if the heart attack is extensive, the heart block may be permanent and require a pacemaker.

Where does the block occur?

The electrical activity of the heart starts in the sinoatrial (SA) node in the upper chamber (atrium) and travels through the atrioventricular (AV) node to reach the lower chamber (ventricle). Heart block may occur at any point along this electrical pathway. Heart block of the AV node can be of several types, and a doctor generally can diagnose these by looking at the person's electrocardiogram(EKG, ECG).

What is atrioventricular (AV) block?

First-degree AV block

In first-degree block, the electrical impulses take longer to travel between the upper chamber (atrium) and lower chamber (ventricle) of the heart. This type of heart rhythm may or may not be associated with a slow heart rate.

It does not usually require treatment. But this type of heart block may raise your risk of heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation.

Second-degree AV block

In second-degree heart block, some of the electrical impulses are blocked between the upper and lower chamber of the heart. These electrical impulses may or may not have a clear pattern. The blocking of the impulse can come and go, resulting in "dropped heartbeats." A second-degree type II block may progress to complete or third-degree heart block.

Second-degree heart block can be categorized into two types:

  • Mobitz type I block (also called Wenckebach) usually occurs in the AV node. It is common in young, healthy people (especially during sleep). It usually does not cause symptoms and rarely requires treatment.
  • Mobitz type II block usually occurs below the AV node in other conduction tissue. It may be part of aging. It is also seen in people with significant heart disease or during a large heart attack. It may cause lightheadedness or fainting (syncope). And it may progress to complete heart block. This type frequently requires a pacemaker.

Complete or third-degree block

In third-degree heart block, all of the electrical impulses are completely blocked between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. When this occurs, the atria and ventricles beat at completely different rates.

Complete heart block is caused by the aging process, medicines, heart attacks, infiltrative heart diseases (amyloidosis, sarcoidosis), and infectious diseases (endocarditis, Chagas disease). It may also occur after heart surgery and can be present from birth (congenital).

Complete heart block frequently causes symptoms of lightheadedness or fainting and usually requires the placement of a permanent pacemaker. People who are born with complete heart block (an uncommon congenital condition) often have no symptoms and may not need treatment initially. But eventually they almost always require pacemaker placement.

What is bundle branch block?

Bundle branch block can affect the heart's rhythm. The heart has structures, like wires, that are called bundle branches. They are part of the heart's electrical pathway. When a branch is diseased, it is called "blocked," because the electrical signals can't travel down the branch.

Some people with bundle branch block don't have any symptoms and don't need treatment. But when a block causes the heart to beat too slowly, it can cause symptoms such as tiredness and fainting spells. A pacemaker may be used to get the heartbeat back to normal.

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Cheng S, et al. (2009). Long-term outcomes in individuals with prolonged PR interval or first-degree atrioventricular block. JAMA, 301(24): 2571-2577.
  • Olgin JE, Zipes DP (2015). Specific arrhythmias: Diagnosis and treatment. In DL Mann et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 10th ed., vol. 1, pp. 748-797. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD - Cardiology, Electrophysiology

Current as ofDecember 6, 2017


Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.

×

Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to https://my.wellspan.org, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.

×