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What Is a Right Bundle Branch Block?

People with a right bundle branch block are at a greater risk for dying during a heart attack.
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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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A right bundle branch block (RBBB) is a medical condition in which electrical signals are partially or completely blocked along the pathway to the right side of the heart. This condition can range from mild to severe and often patients will not need to seek treatment unless they have an underlying condition that causes it. Many people may not even know they have an interruption of electrical signals, unless a doctor detects the disturbance on an electrocardiogram (ECG). In more severe cases, the doctor may need to treat the patient for chronic lung disease, blood clots, and other underlying conditions.

Patients with a bundle branch block may experience medical complications ranging from negligent to fatal. Some people may have a slowed heartbeat because of the delay in electrical impulses to the right side of the heart. Others may be diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia, which is an abnormal heartbeat. They may feel the sensation of skipping a heartbeat once in awhile. More severe cases may lead to cardiac arrest, and people with this medical condition have a elevated risk of complications or death resulting from a heart attack.

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Electrical impulses are responsible for contracting the right and left ventricles, or the lower chambers of the heart. Normally, this action would occur almost simultaneously. In a person with RBBB, the impulses cannot go directly to the right ventricle, so they go to the left one. The left ventricle can contract, but the right one can only contract when it receives the electrical signals from the left ventricle.

Right bundle branch block can develop in people who are healthy, but often, there is an underlying cause. This condition not only can cause a heart attack, but a heart attack can also cause it. A block can also develop from high blood pressure, a blood clot in the lungs, or myocarditis, which is an infection of the heart. Some patients may be born with a heart abnormality that results in this condition, or they may develop it after scar tissue forms following a previous heart surgery.

Many patients with right bundle branch block experience no symptoms at all. Bradycardia, or a slow heartbeat is one clue that a person may have RBBB. Patients may also feel as though they are about to faint, or they may actually faint.

Right bundle branch block is not treated directly, and many people do not require any treatment at all. Those who have an underlying medical condition will need to address it. A heart infection or high blood pressure can be treated with medicines, and some patients may benefit from surgery to increase the blood flow to the heart. Occasionally, the doctor may recommend implanting a pacemaker to regulate the heartbeat, but usually this is only used in patients with blocks to both sides of the heart.

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