15 Oct 2022

According to the data released by the Ministry of Health, Government of India, around 1.6%-7.4 % of the rural population and around 1 % to 13.2 % of the urban population have suffered any form of heart blockage in the last few decades. Hence, it becomes very important to understand exactly what heart blockages are, they are of how many types, what the various symptoms associated with heart blockages, what are some of the treatment options available, and also the risks associated with heart blockages. So, through this article, we will try to analyze the concept of heart blockages in detail so that a person who goes through this article is able to understand this concept in laymen's terms. This will greatly help to reduce the risks associated with heart blockages as people will be able to better deal with the situations arising out of heart blockages after going through this article.

What are Heart Blockages

To begin with, we will try to understand what heart blockages are. Heart Blockage is nothing but a situation when the electrical impulses which are responsible for the beating of the heart get restricted in some form or another. These electrical impulses regulate the rate of heart beats and also control the rhythm of the heart. The condition of heart blockage is often termed as ‘Atrioventricular (AV) Block or a ‘Conduction Disorder’ in medical terms.

Causes of Heart Blockage:

Now, we shall analyze why heart blockages generally occur. It occurs when foreign harmful substances like cholesterols and bad fatty cells get deposited on the inner side walls of the heart tissues known as ‘heart arteries. This condition is often termed as ‘atherosclerosis. Some other causes of heart blockage include the development of fibrosis in the heart tissues. This buildup of fibrosis often occurs as a result of aging when the upper and lower portions of the heart become weak. Heart Blockages can also occur due to a condition known as ‘Heart Attack’ or a ‘Heart Muscle Disease’ known as ‘Cardiomyopathy’. It can also occur as a consequence or side effect of open heart surgery or due to problems related to the heart’s valve or issues related to the structure of the heart.

What Happens During a Heart Blockage:

In a normal human heart, the electrical impulses or signals traverse from the upper chambers of the heart known as ‘atria’ to the lower chambers of the heart known as ‘ventricles’. These upper and lower chambers create a bridge-like structure with the help of heart muscles which in turn help to connect the electrical activity from the upper parts of the heart to the lower parts. During the condition of heart blockage, there is a disruption in the movement of the electrical signals through the upper-lower heart chamber route, which is known as the ‘AV Node’ in medical terms. Consequently, the effective working of the heart gets disrupted which is demonstrated by the slow beating of the heart. As a result, the heart is not able to pump blood efficiently to the various parts of the body.

Various Types of Heart Blockages:

Now, we shall discuss what are the various types of heart blockages. Heart Blockages are often divided into first, second or third degrees on the basis of the electrical impulse irregularity.

  • First-Degree Heart Blockage: In this condition, although the electrical signals reach the ventricles or the lower chambers of the heart but move through the AV Node slowly as compared to a normal heart.
  • Second Degree Heart Blockage: It is divided into two types à Type I and Type II Heart Blockages.

Type I Blockage is also known as Mobitz Type I or Wenckebach’s AV Blockage. Here, the rate of electrical signal gets slower gradually and finally the heart skips a beat.

Type II Blockage is also known as Mobitz Type II Blockage. Here, the electrical signals reach the lower chambers in a more irregular manner. Hence, the irregularity of the heartbeat also increases and heart also becomes slower than normal.

  • Third Degree Heart Blockage: This condition arises when the electrical impulses from the atria to the ventricles are restricted in a complete manner. To compensate for this condition, the ventricle or the lower heart chamber begins to beat up on its own and tries to act as a ‘pacemaker’ itself. However, the resultant heartbeat is slower, more irregular and unreliable. This degree of heart blockage is often more serious and can often be fatal as well as it greatly affects the ability of the heart to pump out blood.

Associated Symptoms:

Now, let us discuss some of the symptoms associated with heart blockages. The symptoms of a heart blockage vary depending on the degree of the blockage.

During a first degree heart blockage, a person may not have any symptoms at all. However, some irregularities in the heart might be visible in an Electrocardiogram (ECG) test despite the heart rhythm and rate appearing normal.

During a second-degree heart blockage, people often experience symptoms like tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid breathing, nausea, fainting, and dizziness.

Lastly, the symptoms of a third-degree heart blockage include feelings of tiredness, chest pain, faintness, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc.

Also, it has been observed that as the heart rate gets very slow during a third-degree heart blockage, so the symptoms appear a lot more aggravated during a third-degree heart blockage.

How Serious is a Heart Blockage:

Heart Blockages can often prove to be serious or fatal depending upon the degree, gravity and locality of the blockage. The symptoms and severity can also vary depending upon the age of the person, his or her gender and on the basis of any co-morbid conditions. If a heart blockage is ignored, it can often result in a life-threatening and unanticipated cardiac arrest. However, most of the time, a heart blockage often causes lightheadedness or fainting issues.

Which type of patients are at a higher risk of Heart Blockage:

  • The person is of old age.
  • The person suffers from neo-natal or by-birth heart issues.
  • People suffering from heart conditions like ‘Rheumatic Heart Disease’ or ‘Sarcoidosis’.
  • People have a hyper-active vagus nerve which results in the slowness of the heart.
  • A person whose mother suffers from an auto-immune disease such as ‘Lupus’.
  • A person who takes medications like Beta Blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, Digoxin, High Blood Pressure Drugs, Muscle Relaxants, Sedatives, Anti-Depressants, Diuretics, etc.

How to diagnose a Heart Blockage:

Initially, the cardiologist observes the medical history of the patient and also the medical history of his or her family. This is followed by asking a few routine questions related to the daily routine and lifestyle habits of the patient including his daily diet and exercise levels. The doctor also enquires about the current prescription history of the patient. The doctor also observes the patient to look for some other physical symptoms like fluid buildup in the feet, legs and ankles which are often associated with increased risks of heart failure. Following a physical checkup, the cardiologist may advise the patient to visit a Electrophysiologists who are specialists to analyze the electrical impulse activity of the heart.

Various types of tests to diagnose a heart blockage include:

Implantable Loop Recorder: This device is administered into the skin near the chest of the person in order to monitor the rhythm of the heart for around 4 to 5 years. This recorder can be inserted into the patient's skin in less time and can stay in the person’s body for a long time. This test is particularly useful for people who often experience irregular events of heart blockages whose origin is often unknown.

Electrophysiology Study: In this test, a long and thin catheter tube is inserted into a blood vessel to review the electrical activity of the heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG) Test: This tests analyzes the electrical impulse activity of the heart. In addition, it also monitors the heart rhythm and heart rate. The severity of the heart blockage is analyzed through this test. A portable ambulatory device such as a Holter Monitor might be needed to be used upon the patient for around 24 to 48 hours.

Some of the major complications or hurdles related to Heart Blockages:

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Heart Failure

Irregular Beating of the Heart often termed as Arrhythmia

Heart Attack

Treatment Options available for Heart Blockages:

A First Degree Heart Blockage often does not require any medication or treatment.

A Second Degree Heart Blockage may sometimes require the person to wear a pacemaker in order enable the heart of the person to beat like a normal heart. A Pacemaker is nothing but a minute instrument which enables the flow of electrical signals to the heart of a person.

A Third Degree Heart Blockage often occurs all of a sudden during an emergency condition. During this type of heart blockage, a person if almost every time required to weak a pacemaker in order to live a normal lifestyle.

Are Heart Blockages Preventable:

The Heart Blockage which is congenital (present at the time of birth) can’t be prevented at all. However, most of the heart blockages occur after a few years of a person’s birth. In this case too, some of the conditions are not preventable at all. Moreover, the likelihood of the heart blockages often increase with age.

Additionally, a person can follow some of the below-mentioned steps in order to reduce the possibility of a heart blockage:

Visit the Healthcare Professional on a regular basis.

Lead a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy foods and doing exercises regularly

Undergoing the routine tests on a regular basis.