A pacemaker is a small device that is placed inside the body to cause the heart to beat.
The pacemaker, also called a pulse generator, does for the heart what the heart's electrical system cannot do on its own. The pacemaker contains circuits that time how often electrical signals are sent to your heart, causing it to beat.
If your heart starts its own beat early enough, these same wires carry the signal back to the pacemaker. Pacemakers are needed for a variety of different reasons, including:
- Sinus bradycardia or sinus arrest: Heart cells can start a normal heartbeat but send out less than the usual 60-100 beats per minute.
- Bradycardia/tachycardia or sick sinus syndrome: The heartbeat goes from being too slow to beating too fast.
- Heart block: Cells in the upper right heart send out the usual signals but they get blocked between the upper and lower heart chambers in the bundle branches.
- Heart failure: A pacemaker can also be used to better time contractions in the 4 heart chambers in certain patients with a weak heart, helping the heart pump out more blood.
About one hour of surgery is needed to put a pacemaker in, but you will not have to be put to sleep. A permanent pacemaker is placed just under the skin near your shoulder completely inside your body.
You are asked not to eat to drink for a number of hours before surgery. Your upper chest will be scrubbed and, if needed, any hair removed.
You will be given medicine to help you relax and the skin over the incision will be numbed to prevent any pain.
A small incision is made in the left upper chest and a small pocket is made under the skin, over a vein. Using X-ray technology for guidance, the doctor guides the pacemaker wires through this vein into the heart chambers. When the wires are in place, the pacemaker is attached to them and placed in the pocket under your skin.
After the procedure, most people eat normal foods and are out of bed right away. Many patients have a small bandage over the incision. A nurse will check your pulse, blood pressure and incision. An EEG monitor may be used to see how the pacemaker is working.
Sometimes, the doctor prescribes several hours of bed rest to ensure that the pacemaker wire is secure within the heart. The area around the incision will be sore for the first day or so.
It is common for most patients to go home the next day.
For more information, contact the ARMC Catheterization Laboratory at 706-475-3984.