What is pacemaker?

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Pacemaker: Overview

A pacemaker is a small device. It sends out mild electrical signals that keep your heart beating normally. The signals are painless. It can help stop the dizziness, fainting, and shortness of breath caused by a slow or unsteady heartbeat.

A pacemaker is powered by batteries. Most pacemakers are placed under the skin of your chest. They have thin wires, called leads. The leads pass through a vein into your heart.

A pacemaker can help restore a normal heart rate. It is used when certain problems have damaged the heart's electrical system, which normally keeps your heart beating steadily.

If you are worried about having a pacemaker, it may help if you learn about how the pacemaker helps your heart. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.

Pacemaker

A pacemaker is a small, battery-powered device that sends out small electrical impulses to make the heart muscle contract. Pacemakers help your heart beat in a regular rhythm and at a normal speed. They are inserted to treat a heart rate that is too slow, too fast, or irregular.

The pacemaker itself consists of a pulse generator and battery that create the electrical impulses. Most pacemakers have wires (leads) that transmit electricity to the heart.

Pacemakers are typically placed under the skin of the chest. Some pacemakers are placed inside the heart and do not have wires.

Temporary pacemakers are used only while a person is in the hospital. A temporary pacemaker is not surgically inserted but is worn outside the body.

How well does a pacemaker work?

Pacemakers stimulate the heart to speed up when it beats too slowly. They can also substitute for the natural pacemaker of the heart (SA node) or the heart tissue that regulates the beating of the ventricles (AV node).

Pacemakers can improve quality of life. For example, pacemakers can help people to return to normal, active lives.

Traveling when you have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) or pacemaker

You can travel safely with a cardiac device. But you'll want to be prepared before you go.

  • Bring a list of the names and phone numbers of your doctors.
  • Bring your cardiac device identification card with you.
  • Know what to do when you go through airport security.
    • Walk through the security detector at a normal pace.
    • Don't stand near or lean against the gates or archway.
    • Tell security screeners at airports to keep the magnetic wands at least 12 in. (30.5 cm) away from the device.

How do you prepare for medical procedures when you have a pacemaker?

Some medical procedures may affect your pacemaker. So, tell your health professionals that you have a pacemaker before any test, procedure, or surgery. Have your dentist contact your doctor before any dental work. Physical therapists should contact your doctor before using ultrasound, heat therapy, or electrical stimulation.

Having follow-up appointments for your pacemaker

  • Go to all your appointments with your doctor.

    During your checkups, the doctor will check your pacemaker. In between checkups, you may send information from your pacemaker to your doctor. You might do this manually. Or your device might do it automatically. Your doctor will give you instructions about how to do this.

  • If you take heart rhythm medicines, take them as prescribed.

    The medicines work with your pacemaker to help your heart keep a steady rhythm.

  • Know what to do if your device is recalled.

    Your doctor or the device maker will contact you if this happens. Follow your doctor's or the device maker's instructions.

Permanent pacemaker

Location of pacemaker in upper-left chest, showing its lead through subclavian vein and into right ventricle

A pacemaker is a small, battery-powered device that sends out small electrical impulses to make the heart beat in a regular rhythm and at a normal speed. A pacemaker consists of a pulse generator and battery that create the electrical impulses. Most pacemakers have wires (leads) that transmit electricity to the heart. A pacemaker has one or more leads. A lead goes from the pacemaker through the subclavian vein and into a heart chamber, such as the right atrium or right ventricle. The end of the lead is in the heart chamber to stimulate the muscle.

A permanent pacemaker is typically placed under the skin of the chest. One type of permanent pacemaker is placed inside the heart. This type does not have leads.

When is it safe to drive after getting your pacemaker?

You can drive if you have a pacemaker and you don't have any symptoms such as fainting. But right after you get a pacemaker, your doctor may ask you not to drive for at least a week after the device is implanted. This gives you time to heal.

Why is getting a pacemaker done?

Your doctor might recommend that you get a pacemaker if:

  • You have a problem with your heart rhythm that could be helped by a pacemaker.
  • You have trouble doing everyday activities, or you can't do them at all.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.