In this article, you’ll learn and discover causes, and treatments, of heart blockage and how to prevent this silent killer
Heart Blockage Overview: Common Causes & Risk Factors
The rhythm of the heart is controlled by electrical signals that travel from the upper chambers of the heart to the lower chambers. When this electrical signaling system is blocked or slowed down, it affects the rate and pattern of the heartbeat and this condition is called a heart block.
Some people are born with heart block conditions, referred to as congenital heart block. Congenital heart block can be caused by improper development of the fetus in the womb or because of autoimmune diseases that have been passed from the mother to the child. When heart block develops later in life, it is termed as an acquired heart block.
The severity of heart block is categorized into three degrees with the first degree being the mildest. The first-degree heart blocks have slowed down electrical impulses. Second-degree heart blocks are those where some of the electrical impulses are not conveyed to the right areas of the heart causing slower or missed heartbeats. A complete heart block or third-degree heart block is when there is absolutely no electrical signal being conveyed which can slow down or even stop the heart rhythm. A third-degree heart block could be fatal.
Scarring of the heart tissues that occurs with aging is a common cause of heart block. Open heart surgery or a heart attack can also cause the formation of scar tissue. Those with a history of heart disease or who smoke, have the highest risk of heart blocks. The heart issues that are most likely to cause heart block are coronary thrombosis, cardiomyopathy, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves). Heart blocks can also be caused by Lyme’s disease. It is found that most patients who have heart blocks also have high potassium levels or hyperthyroidism.
Early Diagnosis, Treatment & Complications
Early diagnosis of heart complaints makes them easier to treat. However first-degree heart block rarely has any symptoms and often goes undetected. Second-degree heart block patients might experience dizziness, fainting, nausea, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and the feeling that the heart is skipping a beat. Third-degree heart blocks need immediate medical attention. The symptoms are dizziness, fainting, extreme, and sudden exhaustion, cardiac arrest, and palpitations.
The most common diagnostic test is an ECG (electrocardiogram) which places electrodes on the patient’s skin and measures and records the electrical impulses that are generated by the heart in a wave pattern. It can very clearly reveal heart block problems and also which side of the heart is affected. Sometimes a device called a Holter is prescribed for the patient to wear and record the heart’s electrical activities for a couple of days.
Doctors may also prescribe an echocardiogram that shows the doctor an image or video of the heart and its valves. An electrophysiology test using tiny electrical shocks could be used to find the cause of the problem and the area of the heart that is causing it. Arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats can be triggered by using the tilt-table test where the patient lies on a bed that is made to change position.
Heart blockage treatment for a left bundle branch block may be attempted through reperfusion therapy to restore blood flow to the blocked arterial blood vessels. Anti-clotting agents can be used to dissolve clots but come with the added risk of bleeding. Second and third-degree heart blocks are treated by implanting a pacemaker to help the heart maintain a regular heartbeat.
Heart block patients with a left bundle branch block are at a higher risk of complications compared to patients with a right side block. These complications could cause cardiac arrest, sudden cardiac death, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), bradycardia (slow heart rate) or insufficient contractions.
What You Should Do To Prevent This Silent Killer
The best way to prevent heart disease is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index). One should have an active lifestyle, eat a nutritious diet and get adequate regular exercise. Food that has added sugars, fats and sodium should be avoided. One should also frequently measure the blood pressure and keep it under check, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Smoking and abuse of alcohol should be avoided. Stress has a significant effect on hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease and should be managed through activities such as meditation, exercise or music. Lack of sleep is a risk factor for heart problems and one should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day.
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