What is heart block?
Heart block occurs when the electrical signals that tell the heart to contract are delayed or blocked between the upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles). This results in a slow or irregular heartbeat and depending on the degree of heart block you may require treatment or a pacemaker.
The condition can be present from birth, known as congenital heart block, or it can develop later in life.
Heart block is commonly seen in patients as they get older but can be caused by infection (Lyme disease), high blood pressure, exposure to toxic substances or powerful drugs such as those used to treat cancer or coronary heart disease. There are a large number of cause of heart block and occasionally it is not possible to delineate the cause. However, even when the clear cause is not known, given the consequences, this doesn’t alter the treatment which in cases of advanced heart block is a pacemaker.
What are the symptoms of heart block?
Heart block is of many types and of the milder types there may not be any symptoms and these usually do not require treatment. More advanced heart block can cause dizziness, fainting, fatigue, breathlessness, chest pain or heart failure.
What assessment do I need if I have heart block?
An ECG Test is the most common method of assessing whether a patient has heart block, and your cardiologist may also ask you to undertake ECG monitoring over a period of time to thoroughly assess your conduction system. Additional testing with exercise stress testing, echocardiography or cardiac MRI scan may also be required.
What are the treatments for heart block?
For certain types of heart block no immediate intervention is required and such patients can often be managed with surveillance and periodic re-assessment under follow up. For advance heart block, a pacemaker will be required to correct the heart rhythm abnormality.