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.

Heart block can be caused by many things that affect the electrical system of the heart. These things include the effects of aging, certain medicines, and another health condition.

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.

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.

How heart block is treated can depend on the type and what is causing it. Treatment can also depend on your symptoms. If heart block doesn't cause symptoms, it may not be treated. Treatment may be a pacemaker. You and your doctor can decide what treatment is right for you.

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 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 lightheaded, sit or lie down to avoid injury that might occur if you faint and fall.
  • Make lifestyle changes to improve your heart health.
    • Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit alcohol, sodium, and sugar.
    • Get regular exercise. Try for 30 minutes on most days of the 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.
    • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
    • Do not smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
    • Manage other health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • If you received a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), you will get more information about it.
  • Wear medical alert jewelry that describes your condition and says you have a pacemaker or ICD. You can buy this at most drugstores.

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.
    • Lightheadedness 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 now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, 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 if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.