Temporary pacemaker effective in acute Lyme carditis patient with severe heart block

A 30-year-old man with acute Lyme carditis with severe heart block is successfully treated with a temporary pacemaker. “Quite frequently, these young patients are implanted with permanent pacemakers; given lack of knowledge on the transient nature of the cardiac conduction system inflammation,” according to researchers from Ontario, Canada. [1]

by Daniel J. Cameron, MD MPH

The patient presented with a syncopal episode with no prodrome, shortness of breath and weakness, according to the case study, entitled Electrocardiographic progression of acute Lyme disease. “Three weeks prior to the presentation, he had experienced an “insect bite” on his calf after being outside. A week later, he developed chills, sweats, myalgia, back pain, headache and fatigue,” according to Fuster and colleagues, from Kingston General Hospital, Queen’s University. [1]

Lyme carditis was diagnosed based on the history, a pulse rate of 38 bpm, a high degree AV block, and the absence of ischemia. A temporary transvenous pacemaker was placed through the jugular vein, and the man was admitted to the cardiac unit for monitoring and treatment. Intravenous ceftriaxone was prescribed.

Most patients presenting with Lyme carditis and new onset arrhythmia do not remember when they have been bitten or they do not have a clear history of tick bite, according to researchers.

The Lyme carditis resolved without the need for a permanent pacemaker. The EKG progressed from a high degree AV block that rapidly evolved into 3rd degree AV block with a junctional escape rhythm to 2:1 AV block with a narrow conducted QRS by Day 5.

The temporary pacemaker was removed on Day 6. By the second week, the EKG had returned to normal sinus rhythm. The man was discharged and instructed to complete 4 weeks of antibiotics. “This is the first case in the literature that has captured the electrocardiographic evolution of Lyme carditis, day by day until complete resolution,” states Fuster and colleagues.

According to Fuster, “Most patients presenting with Lyme carditis and new onset arrhythmia do not remember when they have been bitten or they do not have a clear history of tick bite, therefore it is a reasonable decision to investigate those patients for suspicious Lyme disease especially in high-risk areas or in patients with pathognomonic symptoms like erythema migrans (characteristic migrating rash).” In fact, “only 40% of patients with Lyme carditis report having erythema migrans rash, as compared with 70%–80% of patients overall.”

The authors recommend hospitalization, because a temporary pacemaker may be required. “Hospitalization is recommended for patients with 2nd or 3rd degree AV block, and for patients with 1st degree AV block and a PR interval > 300 ms.” [1]

Fuster and colleagues point out several of the following observations and recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): [2]

  1. Males are disproportionately affected by Lyme carditis.
  2. Lyme disease patients ages 15 -45 develop Lyme carditis more frequently.
  3. Only 40% of patients with Lyme carditis report having erythema migrans rash, as compared with 70% – 80% of patients overall.
  4. Patients with suspected Lyme disease should be evaluated for cardiac symptoms, including palpitations, chest pain, lightheadedness, fainting, and shortness of breath.
  5. ECG is mandatory if Lyme carditis is suspected.
  6. Ask patients with unexplained heart block about possible exposure to infected ticks.

This case demonstrates the importance of investigating patients with heart block for Lyme disease, given that carditis can be a complication of the disease. It occurs when the Lyme spirochete invade the heart at different levels. The most common clinical manifestation of Lyme carditis is AV block, which can vary between 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree block. Progression to 3rd degree AV block can be rapid and fatal if left untreated.



  1. Fuster LS, Gul EE, Baranchuk A: Electrocardiographic progression of acute Lyme disease. Am J Emerg
    Med 2017.
  2. Centers for Disease C, Prevention: Notice to readers: final 2012 reports of nationally notifiable infectious
    diseases. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2013, 62(33):669-682.

9 Replies to "Temporary pacemaker effective in acute Lyme carditis patient with severe heart block"

  • Colleen
    02/01/2018 (3:46 pm)

    I thought this article may help shed some additional light on this issue, although it could be put into layman’s terms.

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      02/02/2018 (10:16 am)

      Thanks for sharing the Pubmed link titles “Lyme Carditis—Diagnosis, Treatment and Prognosis”. It is encouraging to hear others address this all important issue.

  • Colleen
    02/01/2018 (2:53 pm)

    I recently had someone copy from the CDC’s site to find out the “terms” ….
    Needless to say I’m wondering?
    Does this only happen immediately after a tick bite, or can it happen down the road years later when as shown in studies Lyme can suddenly come awake after little or no signs or symptoms?

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      02/02/2018 (10:10 am)

      Conduction issues are typically seen in emergency room and hospital settings early in the disease. I have seen conduction issues years later but I am unsure the conduction problems relate to a tick borne illness.

    • Donna DiDario
      09/17/2022 (5:25 pm)

      This can happen years later. I was bit by a tick in November 2020. It was embedded in my side and there was a redness around it when I saw it. I did not go to the doctor because the redness cleared and there was no bulls eye rash.
      In early August 2022 I tested positive for Covid. Ten days later I was negative. Two weeks after Covid I became I’ll with a fever, headache, and cough. Thinking it was still Covid, I tested myself for Covid 3 days in a row and they were negative . August 21, I went to the ER and was diagnosed with long haul Covid. I never felt better as I was a bit feverish, headaches came and went and very fatigued in the days to come. On Sept9 I drove to the ER with heart palpitations high bp and a red warm rash on my leg and neck. After blood work and an EKG found nothing troubling, They sent me home and told me to follow up with a cardiologist. Two days later I return to the ER with slow heart rate (40-50bpm) I was admitted to the hospital with EKG showing 3rd degree heart block. Doctors started me on ceftriaxon right away and was rushed to surgery and needed a temporary pace maker. Lyme tests came back positive.

  • J Willis
    05/23/2017 (7:43 pm)

    Glad to see this. Lyme nearly killed my husband last June, after contracting Lyme carditis. He went into cardiac arrest after a 3-week ‘flu.’ The only reason he lived was that he was already in the cardiac ICU; the entire team jumped on him immediately and brought him back. (Thank God.) He was put on powerful IV antibiotics (ceftriaxone) for 4 weeks via a PIC line.

    He’d had no rash. We never saw the tick that bit him, nor knew where on his body he’d been bitten. It was in May, tick nymph season. Four weeks earlier he had been on a camping trip in Maryland woods. A week after the trip ended, he fell ill with what seemed like the flu, but wasn’t contagious.

    I grew suspicious as he grew weaker and weaker, until finally in the 3rd week of illness, I insisted he go to the ER because he simply couldn’t get out of bed and was grey as death.

    He was immediately admitted with 3rd degree heart block and sent to cardiac ICU where staff began IV antibiotics.

    They did not place a pacemaker, however, until after the code blue. Once he was defibrillated and revived, they immediately placed one.

    It was a lesson learned. The military (this occurred at Walter Reed in Bethesda, MD) has since changed its Lyme carditis protocol to place a pacemaker at the outset of treatment with severe heart block, so that a similar scenario doesn’t happen again.

    Thanks for this article and efforts to raise awareness of Lyme.

  • Cody Gavin
    03/17/2017 (3:54 am)

    I agree with Denise. My following concerns are how many other lives can be saved if doctors learn and understand what lyme can really do and.. sadly, how many lives could have been spared had more doctors been educated sooner? So many lymies will become a statistic and a part of history one day when this modern day epidemic finally gets the exposure it so desperately needs.

  • Denise Smith
    03/16/2017 (2:06 pm)

    Hooray for a proper diagnosis, right here in Ontario! I’d like to suggest that the treating doctors have this published in a journal read by Infectious Disease Doctors.

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