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Heart Block


What is heart block?

Heart block is a problem with the flow of electrical signals in your heart. The electrical signals control the way your heart beats. With heart block, these signals are delayed or interrupted. This affects the way your heart pumps blood.

What increases my risk for heart block?

  • Heart damage caused by certain conditions, such as coronary artery disease or a heart attack
  • Heart surgery
  • Infections, such as Lyme disease and infections in the heart
  • Problems with the balance of electrolytes in your blood, such as high levels of potassium
  • Certain medicines used to treat heart rhythm problems or high blood pressure

What are the signs and symptoms of heart block?

Signs and symptoms depend on how severe your heart block is. You may not have any symptoms. You may have any of the following:

  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Nausea
  • Slow, skipped, or uneven heartbeats
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

How is heart block diagnosed?

Healthcare providers will try to find the cause of your heart block. You may need any of the following:

  • An EKG test records your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. It is used to check the electrical activity to see if there is damage to your heart.
  • A heart monitor tracks your heart rate and rhythm. This device is also called a Holter monitor, event monitor, or mobile telemetry. You wear this monitor while you do your daily activities. Bring your monitor with you to follow-up visits with your healthcare provider. Ask for more information about the heart monitor.

  • Blood tests may be done to check for infection, electrolyte levels, or other causes of heart block.
  • A chest x-ray will show the size of your heart and check for fluid in your lungs.
  • A stress test helps healthcare providers see the changes that take place in your heart while it is under stress. Healthcare providers may place stress on your heart with exercise or medicine. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about this test.

How is heart block treated?

Treatment depends on how severe your heart block is. You may not need any treatment. When symptoms are severe, you may need any of the following:

  • Heart medicine helps your heart beat more regularly.
  • Antiplatelets , such as aspirin, help prevent blood clots. Take your antiplatelet medicine exactly as directed. These medicines make it more likely for you to bleed or bruise. If you are told to take aspirin, do not take acetaminophen or ibuprofen instead.
  • Blood thinners help prevent blood clots. Examples of blood thinners include heparin and warfarin. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. The following are general safety guidelines to follow while you are taking a blood thinner:
    • Watch for bleeding and bruising while you take blood thinners. Watch for bleeding from your gums or nose. Watch for blood in your urine and bowel movements. Use a soft washcloth on your skin, and a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth. This can keep your skin and gums from bleeding. If you shave, use an electric shaver. Do not play contact sports.
    • Tell your dentist and other healthcare providers that you take anticoagulants. Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you take this medicine.
    • Do not start or stop any medicines unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Many medicines cannot be used with blood thinners.
    • Tell your healthcare provider right away if you forget to take the medicine, or if you take too much.
    • Warfarin is a blood thinner that you may need to take. The following are things you should be aware of if you take warfarin.
      • Foods and medicines can affect the amount of warfarin in your blood. Do not make major changes to your diet while you take warfarin. Warfarin works best when you eat about the same amount of vitamin K every day. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and certain other foods. Ask for more information about what to eat when you are taking warfarin.
      • You will need to see your healthcare provider for follow-up visits when you are on warfarin. You will need regular blood tests. These tests are used to decide how much medicine you need.
  • A pacemaker is a small device that helps your heart beat at a normal speed and in a regular rhythm. You may need a temporary or permanent pacemaker. A temporary pacemaker is a short-term treatment in the hospital. The pacemaker is applied to your skin with sticky pads or placed into a vein in your neck or chest. A pacing device helps keep your heartbeat stable. A permanent pacemaker is put under the skin of your chest or abdomen during surgery. A tiny battery creates electrical impulses that keep your heart rate regular.

What are the risks of heart block?

You may develop blood clots that lead to a heart attack or stroke. These conditions may be life-threatening. Heart block may lead to other heart conditions, such as an uneven heartbeat. Without treatment, health conditions that are causing your heart block may not get diagnosed. These health conditions may get worse over time.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Manage other health conditions that are causing your heart block.
  • Take your pulse regularly to check for any changes. Write down this information and take it with you to your visits with your healthcare provider.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You feel lightheaded or faint.
  • You continue to have a slow or uneven heartbeat.
  • You have a hard time exercising.
  • You have questions about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns
    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
    • Trouble breathing
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Part of your face droops or is numb
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.