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Living With Heart Block

First-degree heart block may not cause any symptoms or require treatment. However, some research has shown that people who have first-degree heart block might be at higher risk for atrial fibrillation (AF) in the future.

AF is a type of arrhythmia. It occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart's upper chambers to contract very fast and irregularly.

If you've been diagnosed with first-degree heart block, ask your doctor whether you need to take any special steps to control it.

Your doctor can tell you whether you need ongoing care or whether you need to change the way you take certain medicines.

If you have second-degree heart block that doesn't require a pacemaker, talk with your doctor about keeping your heart healthy. Your doctor will tell you whether you need ongoing care for your condition.

Living With a Pacemaker

People who have third-degree heart block and some people who have second-degree heart block need pacemakers. These devices use electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.

If you have a pacemaker, you should take special care to avoid things that may interfere with it. Avoid close or prolonged contact with electrical devices and devices that have strong magnetic fields. These objects can keep your pacemaker from working properly.

Let all of your doctors, dentists, and medical technicians know that you have a pacemaker. You also should notify airport screeners.

Your doctor can give you a card that states what kind of pacemaker you have. Carry this card in your wallet. You may want to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that states that you have a pacemaker.

Certain medical procedures can disrupt pacemakers. Examples include MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), electrocauterization during surgery, and shock-wave lithotripsy to get rid of kidney stones.

Your doctor may need to check your pacemaker several times a year to make sure it's working well. Some pacemakers must be checked in the doctor's office, but others can be checked over the phone.

Ask your doctor about what types of physical activity are safe for you. A pacemaker usually won't limit you from doing sports and physical activity. But you may need to avoid full-contact sports, such as football, that can damage the pacemaker.

For more information about living with a pacemaker, go to the Health Topics Pacemaker article.

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July 9, 2012