(Atrioventricular [AV] Block—Adult)
DefinitionThe 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 Wenckebach’s 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.
|Anatomy of the Heart|
|Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.|
CausesHeart 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
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of heart block include:
- History of heart disease
- Use of medications
SymptomsIf you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to heart block. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
DiagnosisYour doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a cardiologist or arrhythmia specialist.Tests to evaluate the heart can be done with:
TreatmentThe 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.
PreventionTo 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.
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Conduction disorders. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Conduction-Disorders%5FUCM%5F302046%5FArticle.jsp. Updated October 25, 2012. Accessed March 22, 2013.
Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Isselbacker KJ, et al. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.
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.
- Reviewer: Michael J. Fucci, DO
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014
More from Beliefnet
Many medical groups felt that early exposure to certain foods like peanuts increased a child's risk of developing food allergies. However, newer research including this trial suggest that early exposure may actually decrease the risk of developing food allergies.
Breastfeeding May Decrease the Risk of Childhood Obesity
Tonsillectomy May Reduce Number of Sore Throat Days in Children
Research Review Finds Little Support for Nearly Half of Medical Talk Show Recommendations