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What is a Pacemaker?

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:49pm
ANNOUNCER: Everyone has heard of pacemakers, but most people don't know what an important role a pacemaker can play in maintaining a healthy heart and lifestyle.

MELANIE GURA, MSN, RN: An artificial pacemaker is a small, battery-operated device that can actually take over the role of the heart's electrical system when needed. It consists of the wire, or the lead electrode system, and the pacemaker or device itself.

The population for pacemaker implantation is not limited to age, sex or race. There are approximately 100,000 pacemakers implanted yearly in the United States, and they may be prescribed for a variety of conditions.

Bradycardia is the most common rhythm problem that is associated with pacemaker implantation. This is when the heart becomes too slow, and patients have symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, or even fainting spells can occur.

Atrial fibrillation is a very common heart rhythm disorder in which the upper chambers of the heart beat erratically and chaotically and rather fast, and sometimes it's also too slow.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heartbeat cannot meet the normal volume of blood and oxygen to supply all parts of the body.

Syncope, also known as a common faint or passing out, is usually less severe, but can occur frequently in patients.

ANNOUNCER: Surgery is usually the next step to regaining a healthy heartbeat.

DOUGLAS P. ZIPES, MD: A pacemaker is put in under local anesthesia. So we make a tiny incision in the chest, and the actual procedure itself lasts 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending upon what is done. This is certainly not open-heart surgery. It's very simply done.

MELANIE GURA, MSN, RN: Implanting a pacemaker has very little risks associated. But however, whenever there is a surgical procedure, complications can arise. One of the complications that can happen in the early postoperative phase can be bleeding at the incision and sometimes it will cause a hematoma or a little blood clot over the pulse generator and some bruising.

Rarely, a lead can become dislodged or displaced, and the patient would have to go back to have the lead repositioned by the physician

DOUGLAS P. ZIPES, MD: The complication rate is very, very acceptable, considering the tradeoff of the wonderful things the pacemaker does.

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