When a bundle branch or fascicle becomes injured (due to underlying heart disease, myocardial infarction, or cardiac surgery), it may cease to conduct electrical impulses appropriately. This results in altered pathways for ventricular depolarization. Since the electrical impulse can no longer use the preferred pathway across the bundle branch, it may move instead through muscle fibers in a way that both slows the electrical movement and changes the direction of the impulses. As a result, there is a loss of ventricular synchrony, ventricular depolarization is prolonged, and there may be a corresponding drop in cardiac output. When heart failure is present, a pacemaker may be used to resynchronize the ventricles.
A bundle branch block can be diagnosed when the duration of the QRS complex on the ECG exceeds 120 ms. A right bundle branch block typically causes prolongation of the last part of the QRS complex, and may shift the heart's electrical axis slightly to the right. The ECG will show a terminal R wave in lead V1 and a slurred S wave in lead I. Left bundle branch block widens the entire QRS, and in most cases shifts the heart's electrical axis to the left. The ECG will show a QS or rS complex in lead V1 and a monophasic R wave in lead I. Another normal finding with bundle branch block is appropriate T wave discordance. In other words, the T wave will be deflected opposite the terminal deflection of the QRS complex.
Many people with bundle branch blocks may still be quite active, and may have nothing more remarkable than an abnormal appearance to their ECG. However, when bundle blocks are complex and diffuse in the bundle systems, or associated with additional and significant ventricular muscle damage, they may be a sign of serious underlying heart disease. In more severe cases, a pacemaker may be required to re-establish better heart muscle function.