Pacemakers [return to the list of articles]

A pacemaker is a surgically implanted device which electronically monitors and treats slow or erratic heart rhythms. They were developed over 40 years and have evolved into specialized mechanical devices. In the mid 1970's, increased diagnosis of abnormal heart rhythms resulted in more people benefiting from pacemaker implantation. It is estimated over 500,000 Americans have permanent pacemakers with an average of 400 implanted per one million people annually.

Indications for implantation include: Bradycardia (slow heart rate), heart block and arrythmias diagnosed by your family or heart physician. Symptoms of these abnormal heart rhythms include lightheadedness, tiredness/fatigue or palpitations.

The early pacemakers required a larger operation implanting the wires to the outside of the heart muscle. These devices were large and bulky, with a battery life of only 2-3 years.

Pacemaker placement today is usually a short procedure while awake. A pocket in your skin under your collar bone is created and the wire or "lead" is placed under x-ray guidance into a larger vein which flows into the heart and implanted into the heart lining. Today, pacemakers are much smaller. Measuring about 1" to 2" across and are as thin as a pencil with a battery life of 7-12 years.

Your cardiologist will monitor it's function from their office or from home. If battery replacement is required, your pacemaker will "warn" your cardiologist well beforehand. The procedure has very low risk, including bleeding and infection.

Overall, pacemaker placement is a safe, reliable procedure which has helped many people overcome potentially life-threatening heart problems.