How Pacemakers Work

Your pacemaker monitors and treats dangerously slow heart rhythms (bradycardia) so you can live a more active life.

Important to Know

  • Your pacemaker delivers electrical energy to pace your heart if it’s beating too slowly and stores information about your heart for your doctor.
  • Your pacemaker regularly checks its own battery and your doctor will check to see how much energy your battery has left at each follow-up visit.

 

What is Bradycardia?

Bradycardia is an abnormally slow heartbeat, typically fewer than 60 beats per minute. Since the chambers of your heart don’t contract often enough to supply the right amount of blood, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen and nutrients to function properly. As a result, you may feel tired or dizzy, have shortness of breath, or experience fainting spells.

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How Pacemakers Work

Your pacemaker device contains a small battery-operated computer, which is typically implanted in your chest, and one or two leads, which are implanted in your heart and connected to the device. The pacemaker continuously monitors your heart rhythm and delivers electrical energy (as programmed by your physician) to pace your heart if it’s beating too slowly.

Your pacemaker also stores information about your heart. This allows your doctor to better evaluate the programmed therapy for your heart rhythm and adjust your pacemaker settings if necessary.

An implanted dual-chamber pacemaker system. An implanted dual-chamber pacemaker system.

An implanted dual-chamber pacemaker system.

 

Your Pacemaker's Battery

Just like any battery, your pacemaker battery will run out over time. Since the battery is permanently sealed inside your pacemaker, it can’t be replaced when its energy is depleted. So if your battery runs out, your entire device will need to be replaced. Your pacemaker’s battery life depends on the settings your doctor programs and how much therapy you receive.

Your pacemaker will regularly check its own battery. In addition, your doctor will check to see how much energy your battery has left at each follow-up visit.

 

Pacemaker Implant Risks

While complications don’t happen very often, it’s important to know that there are risks associated with the implantation of any device or lead. You should talk with your doctor about these risks, including the ones below.

Some of the risks encountered during the implant procedure include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Bleeding
  • Formation of a blood clot
  • Damage to adjacent structures (tendons, muscles, nerves)
  • Puncture of a lung or vein
  • Damage to the heart (perforation or tissue damage)
  • Dangerous arrhythmias
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

Some of the risks encountered after the system is implanted may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • You may develop an infection
  • You may experience erosion of the skin near your device
  • The device may move from the original implant site
  • The lead(s) may move out of place in the heart
  • The electrodes on the lead or the pacing pulses may cause an irritation or damaging effect on the surrounding tissues, including heart tissue and nerves
  • You may have difficulty coping with having an implanted device
  • The device might be prevented from pacing due to electromagnetic interference
  • You may receive pacing therapy when it is not needed
  • The device might not be able to detect or appropriately treat your heart rhythms
  • The device may exhibit malfunctions that may result in lost or compromised ability to deliver therapy

Be sure to talk with your doctor so that you thoroughly understand all the risks and benefits associated with the implantation of a pacemaker system.

 

Resources and Support

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