Figuring Out

Everything You Need to Know about Getting a Pacemaker

Pacemaker treatment has been demonstrated to greatly increase survival rates and overall quality of life in people suffering from heart failure or cardiac arrest. Understand the purpose of the pacemaker, how to be ready for surgery, potential risks and consequences, and the nature of regular follow-ups with your doctor before deciding to have one. This resource is designed to give you all of that information so that when you go into surgery, you feel prepared and know everything you need to know about getting a pacemaker.

A pacemaker may be implanted if you have a slow or irregular heartbeat that does not respond to treatment, or if your heart abruptly stops beating. A pacemaker may be required for someone who has had diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol for a long time. There are also certain hereditary diseases that could lead someone to need one. You and your doctor should discuss when and what kind of pacemaker would be appropriate for you.

Pacemakers are medical devices that are surgically installed in the chest, close to the heart. As a means of treating arrhythmia, electrical pulses are used to restore normal heart rhythm and alleviate its associated symptoms. Your doctor or medical practitioner can set the device to alert you to certain arrhythmias and then either send a signal to the heart or pace it with electricity to restore normal rhythm. The most common type of pacemaker is an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).

A pacemaker may be required when the heart’s regular rate and rhythm are disrupted. Ischemic heart disease, in which blood flow is restricted to the heart, cardiomyopathy, and other disorders can all contribute to these disturbances. When the heart beats too slowly (bradycardia), it can induce fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fatigue, all of which may necessitate the use of a pacemaker. A pacemaker can also help reduce episodes of abnormal rhythms called arrhythmias. If medicine for an irregular heartbeat is ineffective, implantation of a permanent pacing device may be necessary. Doctors will take into account any risk factors in your medical history before making their decision about whether you need a pacemaker implantation surgery or not.

The device is implanted in the subclavian region, close to the breastbone. An open chest procedure or a smaller incision can be used to accomplish this. During surgery, your surgeon will cut a small hole in your chest to house the device, and then he or she will link cables to your heart. General anesthesia is used to keep patients comfortable during surgery and to allow them to return to normal consciousness afterwards. Most people return home within one day of their surgery and are able to resume most activities within two weeks after the implantation of their pacemaker. Patients must continue annual exams as part of their aftercare beyond the initial six-month post-implant period.

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