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Lyme Carditis: An Important Cause of Reversible Heart Block

Hugh F. McAlister, MB; Peter T. Klementowicz, MD; Carolyn Andrews, BA, BS, PA-C; John D. Fisher, MD; Michael Feld, MD; and Seymour Furman, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

Requests for Reprints: Seymour Furman, MD, Montefiore Medical Center, 111 East 210 Street, Bronx, NY 10467.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. McAlister: The Cleveland Clinic, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106.

Dr. Klementowicz: Cardiology Associates, 155 Main Dunstable Road, Nashua, NH 03060.

Ms. Andrews and Drs. Fisher and Furman: Montefiore Medical Center, 111 East 210 Street, Bronx, NY 10467.

Dr. Feld: 200 South Broadway, Tarrytown, NY 10591.

© 1989 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1989;110(5):339-345. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-110-5-339
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Lyme disease is a tick-borne spirochetal infection, characterized by erythema chronicum migrans and an acute systemic illness. The disease is endemic in many parts of the northeastern United States. Without treatment, late rheumatic, neurologic, and cardiac complications frequently occur. We report four serologically confirmed cases of Lyme carditis in previously healthy young men (mean age, 45 years) from endemic areas. Each presented with severe symptomatic atrioventricular block, three with episodes of prolonged ventricular asystole. Two had permanent pacemakers implanted (one was later removed), and another, very nearly did, before diagnosis. All four patients were treated with antibiotics, and in each case their rhythm returned to sinus, though one patient has Wenckebach second degree block with atrial pacing at 120 beats/min 16 months later. Carditis occurs in 4% to 10% of cases of Lyme disease and usually begins 3 to 6 weeks after the initial illness. It manifests as a transient myocarditis with varying degrees of atrioventricular block. The diagnosis is made primarily on clinical grounds and confirmed by serologic testing. Temporary cardiac pacing is frequently needed by patients who have severe heart block with hemodynamic instability. The evidence suggests that, in most cases, the block is at the level of the atrioventricular node. The block generally resolves completely with antibiotic treatment. Complete heart block rarely persists more than 1 week and the long-term prognosis appears to be excellent. Consideration and prompt recognition of this potentially lethal, but reversible, cause of heart block is crucial in order to avoid inappropriate permanent pacemaker implantation.





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