People who suffer from an abnormally slow heartbeat may benefit from a cardiac pacemaker, a device that tracks the heartbeat and maintains an adequate frequency to allow oxygen and nutrients to flow through the body.
The heart pumps blood through the body in a continuous cycle through a steady heartbeat. The heart rate is controlled by signals sent from the body's natural pacemaker, called the sinoatrial (SA) node. These signals change as the body goes from rest to an exercised or excited state. Slow heart rates can occur as a result of disease of the SA node or surrounding tissues. This can lead to an insufficient amount of blood traveling to the organs and eventual organ failure. It can also lead to symptoms such as fatigue and fainting.
A pacemaker is a small, battery-operated device that can be implanted in the body to help maintain a regular heartbeat. The pacemaker sends electronic signals to the heart to help it pump properly when needed. This relieves symptoms caused by an abnormal heartbeat and helps prevent further damage. A pacemaker can usually last 7-10 years before the battery dies. It needs to be changed at this point, but does not usually cause any problems.
While a pacemaker provides many benefits to people with an abnormal heartbeat, it also requires them to follow precautions and adjust to a life with a pacemaker. Implantation of the device may cause temporary side effects such as fever, pain and swelling, but most people recover within a few weeks. The pacemaker can be negatively affected by certain electrical sources such as MRI scanning tests, certain cell phone use or security detection gates found in airports and stores. Most household appliances are safe, but it is important to discuss these factors with your cardiologist in order to achieve uninterrupted effective results from your pacemaker.
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)
An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a small device used to control arrhythmias and monitor the heart for those people at a high risk for fibrillation, heart failure, or other serious conditions. The ICD sends electrical energy to restart or defibrillate the heart through wires that are connected to one or more of the heart's chambers. Similar to a pacemaker, an ICD sends a stronger electrical pulse to correct dangerously abnormal heartbeats.
The defibrillator device is implanted under the skin of the chest during a minor surgical procedure, with sedation. The ICD will be tested and your heartbeat monitored for a few days after the procedure in order to ensure that the ICD is working properly. Most people can return to normal activities, with a few restrictions, after a few days. Others may experience pain, swelling or tenderness at the implantation site.