Heart block occurs when there is a delay or block in the electrical signals as they pass from the top to the bottom of the heart. It is classified as first, second (types 1 and 2) and third degree. First degree and second degree (type 1) heart blocks can be a normal finding and are associated with fitness and training in young athletes. These changes can also be caused by underlying heart conditions and some types of medication. Second degree (type 2) and third degree heart block are usually caused by degeneration of the heart conducting system.
How common is it?
First degree heart block affects approximately 1 in 20 young adults. Higher degrees of heart block affect approximately 1% of the population.
What symptoms might I get?
First degree heart block rarely causes symptoms. Second and third degree can cause symptoms of breathlessness, fatigue, giddiness or blackouts.
Will I need treatment?
Patients with second degree (type 2) or third degree heart block usually require a pacemaker.
What extra tests are required?
Some patients require additional investigations such as a heart ultrasound (echocardiogram), an exercise test to look at heart rate profile or prolonged ECG monitor (24 hour tape).
Is it hereditary?
Does this affect my life expectancy?
With appropriate use of pacemaker therapy, most patients with advanced heart block can lead a normal life.
What happens next?
If you have first degree heart block then there is usually no need for further immediate investigation. If you have higher degrees of heart block then you can be referred to your local cardiologist for consideration of further investigation and treatment.