What is the pathophysiology of third-degree atrioventricular (AV) block?

Updated: Jul 05, 2018
  • Author: Akanksha Agrawal, MBBS; Chief Editor: Jeffrey N Rottman, MD  more...
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Third-degree AV block (complete heart block) exists when there are more P waves than QRS complexes, and there is no relationship between them (ie, no conduction). The conduction block may be at the level of the AVN, the bundle of His, or the bundle-branch Purkinje system. In most cases (approximately 61%), the block occurs below the His bundle. Block within the AV node accounts for approximately one fifth of all cases, whereas block within the His bundle accounts for slightly fewer than one fifth of all cases. [3]

The duration of the escape QRS complex depends on the site of the block and the site of the escape rhythm pacemaker. Pacemakers above the His bundle produce a narrow QRS complex escape rhythm, whereas those at or below the His bundle produce a wide QRS complex.

When the block is at the level of the AVN, the escape rhythm generally arises from a junctional pacemaker with a rate of 45-60 beats/min. Patients with a junctional pacemaker frequently are hemodynamically stable, and their heart rate increases in response to exercise and atropine. When the block is below the AVN, the escape rhythm arises from the His bundle or the bundle-branch Purkinje system at rates slower than 45 beats/min. These patients generally are hemodynamically unstable, and their heart rate is unresponsive to exercise and atropine.

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