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Second-Degree Atrioventricular Block Treatment & Management

  • Author: Ali A Sovari, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Jeffrey N Rottman, MD  more...
Updated: Apr 28, 2014

Approach Considerations

Second-degree atrioventricular (AV) block in the asymptomatic patient does not require any specific therapy in the prehospital setting. If the patient is symptomatic, standard advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) guidelines for bradycardia, including the use of atropine and transcutaneous pacing, are indicated.[11, 30]

No specific therapy is required in the emergency department (ED) for Mobitz I (Wenckebach) second-degree AV block, unless the patient is symptomatic. Patients with suspected myocardial ischemia should be treated with an appropriate anti-ischemic regimen. Second-degree block at the level of the atrioventriocular node (AVN) may be due to digoxin, beta-blockers, or calcium channel blockers. Decreasing the dose and/or discontinuing these medications may restore normal AV conduction.

Mobitz II block is more likely to progress to complete heart block and thus requires a different approach. As with Mobitz I block, AV nodal agents should be avoided, and an anti-ischemic regimen should be instituted if ischemia is suspected.

Permanent pacing is considered in accordance with the relevant guidelines (see Pacemaker Implantation). Except for the use of atropine in selected cases of transient AV block, permanent cardiac pacing has replaced medical interventions in the treatment of patients with symptomatic, otherwise untreatable, AV block.


Atropine and Transcutaneous/Transvenous Pacing

Mobitz I block

Admit patients who have symptoms or who have concomitant acute myocardial ischemia or myocardial infarction (MI). Admission should be to a unit with telemetry monitoring, which has transcutaneous pacing capabilities.

Symptomatic patients should be treated with atropine and transcutaneous pacing. However, atropine should be administered with caution in patients with suspected myocardial ischemia, as ventricular dysrhythmias can occur in this situation.

The goal of atropine administration is to improve conduction through the AVN by reducing vagal tone via atropine-induced receptor blockade. However, this goal will only be effective if the level of the blockade is at the site of the AVN. Patients with infranodal second-degree AV block are unlikely to benefit from atropine. In addition, in patients who have denervated hearts (eg, patients who have undergone a cardiac transplant), atropine is also not likely to be effective.

Mobitz II block

Admit all patients to a unit with monitored beds, where transcutaneous and transvenous pacing capabilities are available. The admitting cardiologist should determine whether permanent pacemaker implantation is indicated.

Transcutaneous pacing pads should be applied to all patients with Mobitz II second-degree AV block, including those who are asymptomatic patients, because such patients have a propensity to progress to complete heart block. The transcutaneous pacemaker should be tested to ensure capture. If capture is not able to be achieved, then insertion of a transvenous pacemaker is indicated, even in asymptomatic patients.

Urgent cardiology consult is indicated for patients who have symptomatic type II block and for those asymptomatic patients who are unable to achieve capture with transcutaneous pacing.

Some institutions recommend insertion of a transvenous pacemaker for all new Mobitz type II blocks, although this practice varies greatly from institution to institution.

Patients who are hemodynamically unstable for whom an emergency cardiology consult is not available should undergo placement of a temporary transvenous pacing wire in the ED. A chest radiograph is required to confirm position of the wire and to exclude complications, including hemothorax or pneumothorax.

2:1 block

In cases where there is a 2:1 block and one is unable to determine if there is a Mobitz I block or Mobitz II block, the patient should be admitted and cardiology consultation should be obtained. In such cases, it is safest to assume that a Mobitz II second-degree AV block exists.


Pacemaker Implantation

Indications for permanent pacing in second-degree AV block are explained in detail in the guidelines published by the American College of Cardiology (ACC), the American Heart Association (AHA), and the North American Society for Pacing and Electrophysiology (NASPE) in 2002[5] and by the ACC, the AHA, and the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS) in 2008.[6] A summary of indications is as follows.

  • Second-degree AV block associated with signs such as bradycardia, heart failure, and asystole greater than or equal to 3 seconds
  • Second-degree AV block with neuromuscular diseases, such as myotonic muscular dystrophy, Erb dystrophy, and peroneal muscular atrophy, even in asymptomatic patients (progression of the block is unpredictable in these patients); in some of these patients, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) may be appropriate
  • Mobitz II second-degree AV block with wide QRS complexes
  • Asymptomatic Mobitz I second-degree AV block with the block at intra- or infra-His level found on electrophysiologic testing (level II recommendation)

Second-degree AV block may occur after MI, and it may be transient or asymptomatic. In this case, pacemaker placement may not be needed. However, persistent and symptomatic second-degree AV block after MI, especially if it is associated with bundle-branch block, warrants permanent pacemaker placement. High-grade AV block after anterior MI, even if transient, may warrant permanent pacing.

Second-degree AV block after cardiac surgery may be persistent and necessitate pacemaker placement.

Second-degree AV block in patients with drug toxicity, Lyme disease, or hypoxia in sleep apnea is expected to resolve. In any situation where second-degree AV is expected to resolve as a result of correction of the underlying pathology, permanent pacemaker placement is not indicated.



For symptomatic patients with Mobitz I AV block, a cardiology consultation is indicated. Asymptomatic patients with a Mobitz I block can be referred to a cardiologist on an outpatient basis.

For any patient with a new Mobitz II AV block, cardiology consultation is indicated, regardless of symptoms.


Long-Term Monitoring

Patients who are discharged from the ED with a Mobitz II AV block should have prompt follow-up arranged with a cardiologist.

If high-grade AV block and, possibly, symptoms due to AV block are present, consider monitoring the patient and then performing Holter monitoring or treadmill testing in the future. If the AV block occurs at night, consider sleep apnea as the cause.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Ali A Sovari, MD, FACP Fellow in Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology, Cedars Sinai Medical Center/Heart Institute

Ali A Sovari, MD, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Cardiology, American College of Physicians, American Physician Scientists Association, American Physiological Society, Biophysical Society, Heart Rhythm Society, Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Theodore J Gaeta, DO, MPH, FACEP Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College; Vice Chairman and Program Director of Emergency Medicine Residency Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, New York Methodist Hospital; Academic Chair, Adjunct Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, St George's University School of Medicine

Theodore J Gaeta, DO, MPH, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, New York Academy of Medicine, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors, Clerkship Directors in Emergency Medicine, Alliance for Clinical Education

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Abraham G Kocheril, MD, FACC, FACP, FHRS Professor of Medicine, University of Illinois College of Medicine

Abraham G Kocheril, MD, FACC, FACP, FHRS is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Cardiology, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Heart Failure Society of America, Cardiac Electrophysiology Society, American College of Physicians, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, Illinois State Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Michael D Levine, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Section of Medical Toxicology, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Michael D Levine, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Medical Toxicology, American Medical Association, Phi Beta Kappa, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Emergency Medicine Residents' Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Brian Olshansky, MD Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa College of Medicine

Brian Olshansky, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Cardiology, Heart Rhythm Society, Cardiac Electrophysiology Society, American Heart Association

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Guidant/Boston Scientific for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Medtronic for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Guidant/Boston Scientific for consulting; Received consulting fee from BioControl for consulting; Received consulting fee from Boehringer Ingelheim for consulting; Received consulting fee from Amarin for review panel membership; Received consulting fee from sanofi aventis for review panel membership.

Chief Editor

Jeffrey N Rottman, MD Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Cardiologist/Electrophysiologist, University of Maryland Medical System and VA Maryland Health Care System

Jeffrey N Rottman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Heart Association, Heart Rhythm Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ Associate Professor, Senior Researcher, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine; Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Canada

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


The authors and editors of Medscape Reference gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous authors Ryan L Cooley, MD, and Raluca B Arimie, MD to the development and writing of the source article.

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Typical Mobitz I atrioventricular block with progressive prolongation of PR interval before blocked P wave. Pauses are always less than sum of 2 preceding beats because PR interval after pause always shortens.
Mobitz II atrioventricular (AV) block with intermittent periods of 2:1 AV block. If only 2:1 block was seen in beginning of strip, site of block could not be localized with certainty; however, single dropped QRS complex at end of strip with constant PR interval indicates that this block is localized in one of the bundle branches.
Variable-ratio Mobitz I atrioventricular block. Note marked PR-interval prolongation in first beat of each cycle. Maximum prolongation of PR interval takes place in second beat of cycle, with much smaller increments in subsequent beats. Also, notice that R-R interval actually shortens with each beat—paradox of shortening R-R interval when PR interval increases by diminishing increments.
Sinus rhythm with Mobitz I second-degree 3:2 infranodal atrioventricular (AV) block and bifascicular block. Note that AH interval (indicative of AV nodal conduction) remains constant. HV interval (indicative of His-Purkinje conduction) increases from 65 msec (after first P wave) to 185 msec (after second P wave). Third P wave is followed a His bundle deflection (H) but no QRS complex. AV block occurs in His-Purkinje system below site of recording of His bundle potential. Note shorter PR interval after nonconducted P wave, typical of Mobitz I AV block. HRA = high right atrial electrogram; A = atrial deflection; HB = His bundle electrogram, proximal and distal; H = His bundle deflection; RV = right ventricular electrogram; T = time line, 50 msec.
Representative 12-lead electrocardiogram in asymptomatic 78-year-old woman during recent noncardiac surgery. Patient was referred for implantation of permanent pacemaker with diagnosis of sinus tachycardia with 2:1 atrioventricular (AV) block and narrow QRS complex. As sinus rate slowed, 1:1 AV conduction resumed. Intracardiac recordings confirmed diagnosis of infra-Hisian 2:1 AV block.
Electrocardiogram of patient with Mobitz I (Wenckebach) second-degree atrioventricular block.
Electrocardiogram of patient with Mobitz II second-degree atrioventricular block.
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