Heart Blocks: Care Instructions

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The heart

Your Care Instructions

A heart block is a problem with your heart's electrical system. Normally, a small area of the heart (sinus node) creates the electrical signals that cause the heart to beat in a timed and regular way. A heart block occurs when the signal is blocked. This disrupts the heartbeat. A heart block does not mean that blood flow to the heart is blocked.

There are three types of heart blocks. In a first-degree heart block, the signal is slower than normal. But the heart rate is normal, and the heart usually is not damaged. Some medicines may cause a first-degree heart block.

In a second-degree heart block, some signals do not reach the lower chambers of the heart. This can cause the heart to skip a beat or have an abnormal rhythm.

In a third-degree heart block, the signal is completely blocked from reaching the lower chambers. This can cause the heart to slow down a lot or even stop beating. It is a very serious condition.

A first-degree heart block usually does not cause problems and does not need treatment. Second- and third-degree heart blocks can be treated by placing a pacemaker under your skin. The pacemaker is connected to your heart with thin wires. It helps your heart to beat in an even rhythm.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If you feel light-headed, sit or lie down to avoid injury that might occur if you faint and fall.
  • Get regular exercise. Try for 2½ hours a week. If you do not have other heart problems, you likely do not have limits on the type or level of activity that you can do. You may want to walk, swim, bike, or do other activities. Ask your doctor what level of exercise is safe for you.
  • Get plenty of sleep and rest. If you get overtired, your changes in heart rate or rhythm may be more severe or occur more often.
  • If you received a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), you will get more information about it.
  • Wear medical alert jewellery that describes your condition and says you have a pacemaker or ICD.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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