The heart has two upper chambers called atria and two lower chambers called ventricles. Electrical signals move through special nerve bundles to the atria then to the ventricle. When the electrical signals pass through as expected the heart pumps rhythmically.
Heart block occurs when the electrical signals do not travel normally through the heart. The heart can still pump blood but it beats much slower and less efficiently than normal. There are three types of heart block, ranging from mild to serious:
Anatomy of the Heart
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The causes of heart block in children may include:
Factors that may increase your child's chance of heart block include:
Your child may not have any symptoms at all. If your child has any of the following, see the doctor.
Be aware that your child may feel these symptoms, but may not be able to tell you or know how to describe them. Watch out for signs, like:
If your child has any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to heart block. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions.
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
An electrocardiogram (EKG) shows the heart's electrical activity. The doctor will be able to see a heart block with this test.
The course of treatment will depend on the type of heart block. Generally, treatment is not needed for first-degree heart block.
A pacemaker may be needed for some cases of second-degree heart block and all cases of third-degree heart block. The pacemaker will send regular electrical signals to the heart. It will keep the heart beating in a more efficient rhythm.
If your child is diagnosed with heart block, follow the doctor's instructions.
American College of Cardiology
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
First-degree AV nodal block. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 14, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2013.
Heart block. Heart Rhythm Society website. Available at: http://www.hrsonli... . Accessed on June 20, 2013.
Second degree atrioventricular nodal block (non-Wenckebach). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated April 18, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2013.
Third degree atrioventricular nodal block. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated January 21, 2011. Accessed June 20, 2013.
University of California San Francisco. Heart block. UCSF Benioff Childrens’ Hospital website. Available at: http://www.ucsfchildrenshospital.org/conditions/heart_block/ . Accessed on June 20, 2013.
What is heart block? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hb/ . Accessed on June 20, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 12/3/2012