Pacemakers

What Is a Pacemaker ?

A pacemaker is a small electrical device that’s implanted in the chest or abdomen. It’s used to treat some abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) that can cause your heart to either beat too slowly or miss beats.

Some pacemakers can also help the chambers of your heart beat in sync.

Your heart’s sinus node is your natural pacemaker (found in the upper right chamber of the heart, known as the atrium). It sends an electrical impulse to make your heart beat. The job of a pacemaker is to artificially take over the role of your sinus node if it’s not working properly.

Electrical impulses are sent by the pacemaker device to tell your heart to contract and produce a heartbeat. Most pacemakers work just when they’re needed – on demand. Some pacemakers send out impulses all of the time. Some pacemakers send out impulses all of the time, which is called fixed rate.

Pacemakers don’t give your heart an electrical shock.

acemakers are fitted under a local anaesthetic, which means you’ll be awake during the procedure. You’ll be given sedation to help you relax and you’ll feel sleepy.

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You may need to have an artificial pacemaker fitted if:
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  • you have a particular type of heart block – a delay in the electrical signals travelling through the heart, that can make the heart beat too slowly
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  • your heart is beating too fast and this is not effectively controlled by medication
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  • you have heart failure, which may cause your heart to pump out of sync.

 

Having a pacemaker can greatly improve your quality of life and for some people it can be life saving.

Most pacemakers are very reliable and comfortable. They’re smaller than a standard matchbox and weigh about 20 to 50 grams. A pacemaker sits just under your collarbone and will have one or more leads which are placed into your heart through a vein.

A pacemaker has a pulse generator – a battery powered electronic circuit – and one or more electrode leads:
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  • single chamber pacemakers have one lead
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  • dual chamber pacemakers have two leads
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  • biventricular have three leads.
 
Some people need a special pacemaker called a cardiac resynchronisation therapy (CRT) pacemaker. This helps to coordinate the pumping action of the heart muscle. People who need this type of pacemaker have usually have heart failure, which means that their heart isn’t working as well as it should.

 

Your doctor will talk to you about which type of pacemaker is most suitable for you, which will depend on the reasons why you need to have one.

It usually takes between one and two hours to have one fitted, but it can take longer if you’re having other heart surgery at the same time. After the pacemaker is fitted, most people are able to leave hospital on the same day or a day after surgery.

Your pacemaker will be checked thoroughly before you leave. Serious complications from pacemakers are unusual.

Most people are fine after the procedure but if you feel dizzy, breathless or have any of the symptoms you had before you had your pacemaker, contact your GP or your pacemaker clinic as soon as possible.

You will be given a pacemaker identity card with details of the make and model of your pacemaker. This card should be kept with you at all times. If you require further treatment in the future it is important that you show the card to the medical professional who is treating you.

It’s normal to feel tired for a few days after having your pacemaker fitted, but most people find that they’re able to get back to their normal lifestyle within a few days. You’re not allowed to drive a car for at least a week after your pacemaker is fitted.

To be safe it’s recommended that you don’t do any intense activity like strenuous exercise for about 4 to 6 weeks after having a pacemaker fitted.

It’s ok to have a smartphone when you have a pacemaker, though care should be taken in case they contain magnetic material. It’s recommended that smartphones are kept at least 6 inches away from where your device is.

Apple iPhone 12 models, including other products like iPads, contain extra magnets in their charging functions that could turn off pacemakers. Apple advise that you keep these products and their charging accessories more than 6 inches away from your device, or more 12 inches away if charging wirelessly (when the magnets are in use).

Don’t worry too much if your phone gets too close to your pacemaker, as they’re designed to return to their normal settings once the magnet is moved away.

If you’re unsure about your phone for any reason, we recommend you check it’s handbook/instructions or talk to the manufacturer. You could also contact your doctor or pacing clinic if you have concerns about your device.

Anything that gives a strong electromagnetic field like an induction hob, can interfere with a pacemaker. If you have an induction hob keep a distance of at least 60cm (2ft) between the stove top and your pacemaker. If this is a problem, you may want to consider replacing the appliance with something else.

It’s important that you and your family understand why you’re having a pacemaker fitted and what the operation involves. It’s also important that you understand what to expect in hospital before, during and after your operation during your recovery.

You’ll have follow up appointments at the pacemaker clinic where you can ask questions about living with a pacemaker, they should also provide you will a phone number to call if you have any questions about your pacemaker.

You can also get support for the emotional effects of living with a pacemaker, speak with your GP about this.