First Degree Heart Block is something most people haven’t heard of. Just 0.5%-2% have it in the general population.
That speaks to how rare this form of heart disease is to the general public (and in statistics).
First Degree Heart Block is defined as:
“A first degree heart block is where there is split-second delay in the time that it takes electrical pulses to move through the AV node. First degree heart block does not usually cause any noticeable symptoms and treatment is rarely required.”
There are three different types of heart block:
- first-degree heart block.
- second-degree heart block.
- third-degree heart block.
And “heart block”, regardless of level, is defined as:
“A heart block is when the electrical impulses that control the beating of the heart muscle are disrupted. The most serious type of heart block known as a complete, or third degree, heart block will have symptoms, but often those with less serious heart block can have symptoms too.”
Unsurprisingly with certain medical definitions, the symptoms can be downplayed a little. And I obviously speak from personal experience.
It’s anything but “unnoticeable”.
That can lead to the next point.
Heart Block Symptoms
According to the NHS Inform Website:
- shortness of breath.
- palpitations (irregular heartbeat).
- dizzy spells/fainting.
Depending on the level of heart block, this can be more serious, severe, or come with even more symptoms. Though all levels can come with symptoms beyond what is mentioned (mostly related to what’s mentioned).
Being diagnosed and living with first-degree heart block for a while now, I can speak to the feeling of being dizzy, out of balance, having an irregular heartbeat, and all the rest of it.
Usually on a daily basis (some of it, that is).
What First Degree Heart Block is associated with
According to research studies and data:
- Atrial fibrillation (Afib).
- Advanced atrioventricular block.
- left ventricular dysfunction.
- Infective endocarditis.
- Rheumatic fever.
- Chagas disease.
- Lyme disease.
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19).
Some of these associations come from the fact some people have hypertension (high blood pressure). Other studies were done where these associations were made relating to heart block.
In other words, having any of these could be why you have it or related to why you have it. Personally, Atrial fibrillation on top of heart block is true for me.
Where does heart block come from, and what causes it?
The main causes of first-degree (or heart block) in general:
- myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle.
- low levels of potassium in the blood (hypokalaemia).
- low levels of magnesium in the blood (hypomagnesemia).
Potassium is one of the most important minerals in the body, found in almost every cell. It regulates blood pressure, keeps your heart beating the way it should, and so much more.
The same is true for Magnesium, both of which are electrolytes which is why they’re connected to heart block, an electrolyte issue at the heart of it (no pun intended).
The strange thing about heart block (or first-degree heart block) is how being fit and healthy can actually be the cause of being diagnosed with it.
Its been well-studied that athletes, some of the world’s most healthy people, are prone and known to get first-degree heart block.
One of the reasons is that exercise, especially intense, makes the heart muscle bigger, and this seems to be one trigger.
They don’t know why this happens, but it seems linked to the reason.
Heart block can also happen in:
- Young adults.
And in extreme cases (like third-degree), you can be born with it.
My personal experience
When I first started experiencing heart block, it was during Winter in the pandemic. I had no idea what the F was even going on.
Every night I’d go to sleep, and my heart was beating like a drum at a rock concert (a bit of an exaggeration). So much so I couldn’t sleep properly, and the effects of that started to compound and get worse.
It was mostly an uncomfortable feeling of being able to hear your heart beating and fluttering, as opposed to something more extreme like a heart attack (in the beginning, at least).
I’m generally laid back, and I’ve been told this a lot, but during this time, I started to get more stressed. I noticed whenever I ate salt, I’d get palpitations to a worse degree than without.
It made no sense. It’s not like I ever ate tons of salt. Less than the RDA in fact.
A few months in, I decided to check myself into a hospital, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with me.
These episodes were every night up until the new year when I had a mini heart attack and thought I was going to die. I had multiple of them. And then even more (you lose count eventually).
Chest pain, severe heart inflammation, tightness, inability to move, etc. I had these symptoms of a heart attack as well over time.
That first time it was for real.
Before, it was “just” a nuisance that ruined my sleep for months. But now it was a case of being shot right out of a deep sleep with the heart pounding at breakneck speeds for a couple of minutes.
I called the ambulance this time around (3AM), and even by the time they came to my house, parked outside, and put me on the bed (in the ambulance), my heart was still beating fast enough that they were able to diagnose me with first-degree heart block.
I don’t know if it was the speed necessarily, but they were able to “catch” it.
That night after staying over at the hospital just stressed me even more because not only had I not slept, but I was aware of what a lack of sleep can do to the heart in general.
Not just situations like that.
This stressed the life out of me even more. Eventually, being the person I am, I got sick of stressing and took back control of the steering wheel, which almost drove me to my death.
That level of stress is just suicidal to the body with all those problems going on at the same time.
Then came the:
- Blood tests.
- MRI Scans.
And every scan you can think of since the beginning stages and throughout the year, months and months later.
I found a way to get better despite not being told what or how to get better, or a nutrition plan, etc. You’re kept in the dark because they have NO idea how to solve, reverse, or fix this problem called heart block.
Well, only if the solution means pills, tablets, or metal objects they put inside you to “manage” the problem.
They’re not bending over backwards to give up the information if they do know.
I have no interest in rolling over and dying, or sitting around waiting for someone to aid me with my life anyway, so I figured it out myself.
Let’s talk about it on top of other known, factual, scientific solutions they say plays a role in reversing heart disease overall.
How to manage and improve first-degree heart block:
1. Foods to avoid
Let’s start with the obvious and get it out of the way.
- High-carb diets.
- Too much sugar.
- Trans fats (cookies, McDonald’s, etc).
I won’t mention saturated fat because the research doesn’t back it up. It’s all inconclusive, irrelevant, and too inconsistent to matter when talking about heart disease.
Carbohydrates are sugar because that’s what your body converts it into. So having, let’s say, 300g of carbs over time, especially if you’re not an athlete or actively fit, will only make heart block worse. Or potentially cause it in the first place.
This is more true for BAD carbs than good carbs like veg, so keep that in mind. Bad carbs are easy to accumulate, not so true for “good” carbs.
Overtime I have:
- Tested foods.
- Been a guinea pig.
And have tried removing, adding, removing, and adding some more to see what it is that makes (or made) my condition even worse.
Keep in mind I also have:
- Hidradenitis Suppurativa.
- Gilbert Syndrome.
So my body is a bit unique in a mutant kind of way.
By far, the sugary stuff helped me the most. Sugar over around 30-60+ grams or 100+ on a regular basis would be a death sentence.
In fact, it is for many.
In the 30-60g range, I’d experience:
- Palpitation attacks.
- Feelings of discomfort in the chest.
And so on. Left arm, left shoulder, chest area, that kind of thing. The more sugar I cut out, the more the inflammation started to ease.
I never had much sugar to begin with. Every now and then, yes, I’d eat cheesecake and all the good stuff, but daily for over 10+ years, I’ve eaten vegetables as a general rule.
My breakfast wasn’t the best, though (cereal), which is a bowl of nothing. Pure carbs and processed bullshit. Minimal good stuff.
With sugar, it’s more accurate to say the more carbs I cut out, the more the inflammation went away. But even after that, it took time for it to subside.
Up to 20g of sugar seems fine. Sweeteners, even “bad” ones like Maltitol, don’t have a negative impact on me, either.
I eat fat as my fuel (low carb), and I’ve seen major progress. I told my doctor about it, and they took no issue.
Low carb doesn’t mean “no” carb; it just means not in excess.
There’s evidence that lowering carbs and sugar improves heart disease, which heart block is part of.
That leads to my next point.
2. Foods to include
The more you read up on nutrition, the more obvious it is why certain foods are never known to kill you.
When talking about heart disease and heart block:
- Rice (certain types).
- Olive Oil.
- Heart-healthy meats.
- Certain nuts.
- Vegetables, in general.
- Certain butter, cheese, dairy.
- Fermented foods (Kimchi, Kefir).
- Healthy fats (mono, poly, etc).
And either similar or foods in the same groups are good to go for a heart-healthy diet.
The key is to avoid processed stuff. The bullshit food that isn’t food, and is instead food redesigned and repackaged with the same label despite NOT being legitimate.
I’ve never heard of anyone getting heart disease because they ate too many vegetables. This is even true with certain fruits.
It mostly comes down to eating crap that aggravates heart disease if you have it already.
Vitamins and minerals
The point was mentioned earlier, but focus on:
- Vitamin E.
- Vitamin D.
- Vitamin C.
- Vitamin K2.
- B vitamins.
- Omega 3.
The ones highlighted in bold are too important to ignore when discussing heart block or first degree.
The issue with heart block is the electrical signals are slower than normal, which causes a bunch of other problems and symptoms over time as I’ve experienced.
Potassium, Magnesium, these 2 are electrolytes responsible for your heart muscles contracting, pumping out blood, regulating the nervous system, keeping your heart beating and more.
Taking potassium more than I used to (the RDA is over 3000 in the UK, 4000+ in the USA) helped my condition a lot. I felt the difference in a month.
Magnesium helped a lot as well. Magnesium foods are green veg and veg in general, along with fish and seafood.
Nuts and Tofu as well.
Potassium foods are vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, and nuts – you can find it in a lot of natural foods, even cheese.
Omega 3 is highest in Sunflower (seeds, butter, oil), as well as seafood and fish, more than anything else. Cod Liver Oil included.
You also have Omega 3 in Brussel Sprouts, eggs, and things like that.
Vitamin K2, only found in animal products, is in Chicken, Butter, Cheese, and Eel.
Vitamin E is known to help the heart, and Vitamin D, like magnesium and potassium, is in almost every cell in the body and helps so many functions and problems in the body that only good things can come from upping your intake.
I have 5000-10,000 I.U’s, more than I’ve seen from a regulated UK health shop that sells it. And it’s an upper-level confirmed to be safe.
Do your own research before deciding what’s right for you.
The Mediterranean diet is the most recommended for a thing like this. Not surprising. It’s a diet studied to death and is known to reduce heart disease because of the foods included.
The point of the lifestyle is natural foods and eating things that are real instead of processed or made in a shady back alley lab.
- Olive Oil.
- Lots of vegetables.
- Goat or sheep cheese/milk/butter.
These seem to be the staples of the Mediterranean diet. Little to no processed foods at all.
Depending on your situation or other conditions you may have, you can experiment with this diet (or by lowering your carbs, etc) to see what suits you best.
I’ve adopted a bit of this lifestyle myself, with olive oil being a more common thing I have these days. The official olive oil, that is, straight from either Greece, Italy, or Spain.
Herbs and spices
The key ones to pay attention to for heart block and heart disease:
Each of these is known to help heart health, cardiovascular health, and has been studied and shown to reduce problems with cholesterol, the arteries, heart failure following a heart attack, and more.
You can get carried away with herbs without any problems, but spices and things like Cinnamon especially should be used in smaller amounts.
These plants are powerful after all, and too much of them can have the opposite effect of what you intend.
3. Other sensible methods
When talking about heart block, Healthline recommends:
- eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.
- exercising regularly, aiming for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
- not smoking.
- managing your weight.
- managing stress in a healthy way, including getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- getting regular check-ups with your doctor.
Personally, when I started exercising in February 2022, things got a lot better. I noticed whenever I exercised (the gym, I mean), my problems would go away, and I’d experience no palpitations at night.
Or any other heart problems.
The moment I stopped exercising, it came back predictably. I invested in home gym equipment and use it daily with few exceptions.
I’m better than I’ve ever been, along with all the other changes I made.
There are no personal stories, videos, Anecdotes, vlogs, blogs, or anything when it comes to first-degree heart block. The lack of information is almost shocking.
People live with it, yet nobody has talked about it to the degree that there are tons of people sharing their experiences. That motivated me to talk about it (just like Hidradenitis).
As I continue to fight the good fight and reverse these problems, or even put the disease into remission, I’ll update this post.
In my case, it’s the Hidradenitis that I also have to put into remission as well as I’m sure both are affecting each other in some way.