We have recently studied a case of complete heart block in which there was considerable difficulty in deciding whether it was of congenital or acquired origin. This was because the heart block was first discovered at the age of 2 years in the course of acute diphtheria. Though diphtheritic infections are known to affect the cardiac conduction system, authenticated cases of post-diphtheritic block persisting after the infection are rare, and, furthermore, histopathological study in this case revealed discontinuity between the atrial tissues and the more peripheral parts of the atrioventricular conduction tissues. This has been more commonly observed in congenital cases of complete heart block and it has been postulated on theoretical grounds that this could be thebasis for congenital heart block; on the other hand, it has been noted in a single casethought to be of acquired origin. Review of the evidence available failed to allow accurate classification of the case into either congenital or acquired categories. Thenormal, segmental development of the atrioventricular node, each segment being of different embryological origin, is discussed and the case presented is understandable in thelight of this.
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