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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Orphanou

Pacemaker - everything you need to know


In this section, we will explain the following topics:



What is a pacemaker and how does it work?


A pacemaker is a small device that is implanted under the skin in the chest area. It sends electrical impulses to the heart to keep it beating at a normal rate.

Under normal circumstances, the heart has its own electrical system that controls the heart rate. The heart needs to beat at a normal rate to pump blood to all parts of the body. However, sometimes the heart's electrical system does not work properly. This can cause the heart to beat too slowly or too fast.

If the heart beats too slowly, it can cause symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, and fainting. This is where a pacemaker is needed. The pacemaker can sense when the heart is beating too slowly and send an electrical impulse to the heart to make it beat faster.


What does a pacemaker look like?



A pacemaker consists of two main parts:


The generator: This is the main part of the pacemaker and contains the battery, computer, and other electronic components.

The leads: These are thin wires that connect the generator to the heart.


Most pacemakers are about the size of a matchbox. The generator is implanted under the skin in the chest area, and the leads are threaded through the body to connect the generator to the heart.


What is a temporary pacemaker?


A temporary pacemaker is different from a permanent pacemaker. A temporary pacemaker is only used when someone is hospitalized. The generator is outside the body and works through leads that enter through blood vessels from the leg to reach the heart.

This is used only if the problem is not permanent and there is a possibility that a permanent pacemaker will not be needed, or until the permanent pacemaker is implanted.


How is a pacemaker implanted?


The procedure is performed under local anesthesia. The duration of the procedure depends on the number of leads that will be placed (1 or 2). The recovery is relatively quick, and you will usually be able to go home the same day.


Are there risks during or after pacemaker implantation?


As with any surgery, there are some risks associated with pacemaker implantation. However, these risks are rare.

One risk is pneumothorax (injury to the lung). Another risk is bleeding. The procedure is performed in a safe environment, and equipment and expertise are in place to manage any complications.

Another possible complication, either in the short or long term, is infection at the site where the pacemaker was implanted or on the leads. If you notice redness, irritation, swelling, or pain at the site of the pacemaker, you should contact your doctor immediately.


What should you be aware of after pacemaker implantation?


For the first 2-4 weeks after pacemaker implantation, you should avoid making certain movements and lifting your arm above your head. This will give the lead time to "set" and prevent it from moving.

Later, your cardiologist will monitor you for pacemaker checks (usually every 6 months or 1 year). The check is a simple and painless procedure that is performed by placing a special magnet over the pacemaker area and then checking and adjusting the settings using a special computer. Your doctor will inform you of the remaining battery life and any other potential issues that may arise during the check.

The pacemaker battery usually lasts 8-10 years. After that, the battery will need to be replaced, which is also performed under local anesthesia. The leads will not be affected this time.


Do I need to avoid anything if I have a pacemaker?


If you have a pacemaker, it may be affected by electrical or magnetic fields. You should avoid placing your cell phone close to the pacemaker (for example, in your shirt pocket) or having an MRI scan unless your cardiologist confirms that the specific pacemaker is compatible with MRI.

If you are scheduled to have an MRI or other surgery, you must always inform the doctors and nurses as well as your cardiologist to see if you can undergo the specific exam.

 

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