What you need to know about Lyme carditis
What is Lyme carditis, and what are the symptoms?
Lyme carditis occurs when Lyme disease bacteria enter the tissues of the heart. This can interfere with the normal movement of electrical signals from the heart's upper to lower chambers, a process that coordinates the beating of the heart. The result is something physicians call "heart block," which can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Patients may experience light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or chest pain. Patients with Lyme carditis usually have other symptoms such as fever and body aches, and they may have more specific symptoms of Lyme disease, such as the erythema migrans rash.
How common is Lyme carditis?
Based on national surveillance data from 2001-2010, Lyme carditis occurs in approximately 1% of Lyme disease cases reported to CDC.
How is Lyme carditis treated?
Lyme carditis can be treated with oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics, depending on how severe it is. Some patients might need a temporary pacemaker.
Can Lyme carditis be fatal?
Yes. Medical journals report that four people have died of Lyme carditis worldwide.
How long does it take for a person to recover from Lyme carditis?
Typically the patient receives antibiotic treatment for 14-21 days. Most symptoms are gone within 1-6 weeks.
Third Degree Heart Block
The heart on the left shows how an electrical signal flows from the atrioventricular node (AV node) to the chambers in the lower half of the heart, called the ventricles.
The heart on the right shows a case of third degree heart block. In this illustration, the electrical signal from the AV node to the ventricle is completely blocked. When this happens, the electrical signal of the atria (chambers at the top of the heart) does not transmit to the ventricles (chambers at the bottom of the heart), which causes the ventricles to beat at their own, slower rate.
When heart block occurs during an infection with Lyme disease, second degree heart block can progress to third degree heart block in a matter of minutes.
For more information about heart block, including a video, see: What is Heart Block? by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)