What is a pacemaker?
A pacemaker is a small battery-operated device that controls your heart rate by sending electrical pulses through leads attached to the heart. The battery, which can last up to 15 years, is typically placed just below the collarbone.
An electrophysiologist usually performs pacemaker surgery, and the pacemaker procedure is generally done on an outpatient basis. Pacemaker surgery recovery time varies, but most people can return to normal activities within about six weeks.
Pacemakers can have up to three leads that run from the battery through your blood vessels and attach inside the heart. There are several types of pacemakers, including small leadless pacemakers placed directly in the heart and some with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
Reasons for a pacemaker
Pacemaker implantation is often recommended for people with heart rhythm problems that cause symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath or fainting. Pacemakers for the heart are effective for treating certain types of arrythmias, including bradycardia (a slow heart rate) and tachycardia (a fast heart rate).
What does a pacemaker do?
When a pacemaker senses that your heart rate is below or above a predesignated level, it sends an imperceptible electric pulse to correct the rhythm. Pacemakers also record heart function continuously to provide a comprehensive view of your heart's activity over time. Most are Bluetooth enabled, so your providers can test and adjust the pacing parameters remotely.
Differences between pacemakers and ICDs
Pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) treat heart rhythm problems called arrhythmias. Each device monitors and records heart function continuously. Pacemaker batteries last up to 15 years, while most ICD batteries are good for 5-7 years.
Pacemaker insertion is usually performed to help maintain a regular heart rhythm, especially if you have a slow heart rate. Depending on your heart function, a pacemaker may send imperceptible pulses continuously to pace the heart during both waking and sleeping hours.
An ICD delivers a life-saving electrical shock that jolts an irregularly beating or racing heart back into a normal rhythm. The shock can be felt, but any discomfort only lasts briefly. ICD implantation and recovery is similar to pacemaker recovery time.
Are all pacemakers also ICDs?
While most implantable cardioverter defibrillators also come equipped with pacemaker functions, pacemakers don't have the same role as an ICD. Your caregiver will recommend the most appropriate device for your heart treatment.