In a healthy adult, at rest, the heart beats between 60 and 100 times a minute. Cells in the upper right chamber of the heart generate an electrical signal that travels through the heart, and makes it beat, a sort of cardiac “spark plug,” if you will.
However, if for some reason the heart’s “sparkplug” is not working properly, the heart will not beat regularly, a condition known as arrhythmia. In some cases, arrhythmia needs to be addressed by inserting an artificial spark plug, known as a pacemaker.
Who Might Need a Pacemaker?
Pacemakers are most commonly used to treat bradycardia, an abnormally slow heartbeat. Other disorders, such as heart block, heart failure, and Long QT Syndrome, may also need to be brought under control with a pacemaker.
Does a Pacemaker Require Open-Heart Surgery?
No. Pacemakers are inserted through a small incision, usually under local anesthesia. In most cases, insertion takes approximately two hours. Patients are generally able to leave the hospital within a couple of days.
How Long Does Recovery Take?
Recovery can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. The American College of Cardiology (ACC) recommends enrollment in a cardiac rehabilitation program following pacemaker surgery. Cardiac rehab provides coordinated care, and is the safest way for a pacemaker patient to ease themselves back into their normal life. Medicare and most insurance plans cover cardiac rehab for pacemaker insertions.
Do I Have to Limit My Activities If I Have a Pacemaker?
Once you have been cleared by your doctor, you do not need to limit your activities after pacemaker insertion.
However strong electromagnetic fields may interfere with the functioning of your pacemaker. For this reason, people with pacemakers should not have MRIs.
Your doctor will give you a pacemaker ID card, which you should carry with you at all times. You should also consider wearing a MedicAlert bracelet that states that you have a pacemaker.
Cell phones are safe, but should be kept at least6 to 12 inches away from the pacemaker.
Metal detectors, such as those found at airports and some stores, are generally safe. You will want to minimize your exposure by walking through them quickly and by not standing near them.
Hand-held metal detectors, however, do pose some risk. If you are selected for special screening with a hand-held device at the airport, it is important to show your pacemaker ID card. The staff will then check you in a different way.
Some medical devices may also interfere with pacemakers. Always inform your doctor that you have a pacemaker before undergoing any procedure.
How Long Will My Pacemaker Last?
Typically, the part of the pacemaker that wears out is the battery. Most pacemaker batteries last between 5 and 15 years. The procedure to replace the battery is quick, and does not require much recovery time.
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