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Pacemakers for Heart Arrhythmia

written by: DaniellaNicole • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/19/2010

Learn about pacemaker and heart arrhythmia control. Find out what an arrhythmia is, what a pacemaker is, and the risks and benefits of having a pacemaker implanted to control heart arrhythmia.

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    About Arrhythmia and Pacemakers

    An arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat caused by faulty electrical impulses in the heart. Though usually harmless, sometimes heart arrhythmias will require the use of a pacemaker. Pacemakers and heart arrhythmia control work together to help restore a patient to a more active lifestyle.

    A pacemaker is a small device that is implanted near the heart in order to help control heart beat. One reason a pacemaker is used is when a patient experiences arrhythmias. The pacemaker is designed to mimic the natural function of the heart’s electrical system, controlling the heart chamber pumping action so it functions correctly.

    A pacemaker is made up of a pulse generator that controls the electrical pulses transmitted to the heart and the leads that deliver the electrical pulses.

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    Benefits

    The average pacemaker battery life is five to ten years, which is about how long a pacemaker should last. Once the battery begins to die, a procedure will need to be performed in order to switch it out. The leads, however, usually will not need to be changed. This procedure usually has a shorter procedure and recovery time than the original implantation.

    The pacemaker will help regulate heartbeat, so being able to have an active lifestyle should be a benefit of having the pacemaker implanted. The symptoms caused by arrhythmia, such as fainting, fatigue and lightheadedness should all be cleared up with the pacemaker implanted and functioning.

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    Risks

    The risks of complications from the implantation of a pacemaker are low. The known risks include infection at the implantation site, an allergic reaction and swelling or bruising. Other more serious, but still rare, risks include a collapsed lung and the puncture of a heart muscle. It is extremely rare for complications related to pacemaker implantation to be life-threatening.

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    Implantation

    The implantation of a pacemaker is considered minor surgery. The pacemaker may be temporary or permanent. The surgery can be performed while the patient is awake and should only take one to two hours. The pacemaker will be inserted under the skin, near the heart. The lead wires will have one end each connected to the heart.

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    Life with a Pacemaker

    Once the pacemaker is implanted, there will be a short hospital stay; usually just for one day. A follow-up appointment will be ordered to ensure the settings on the pacemaker are correct.

    Once every several months a telephone check of the pacemaker will need to be done. This works by connecting a phone line to wristbands or a wand. The information is then sent by phone to the doctor’s office where it will be reviewed.

    Some recommendations following implantation, in the short term, may include limiting heavy lifting and vigorous exercise. Some pain around the implantation site may occur, but should not be treated with over-the-counter remedies without first consulting a physician.

    Over the long term, there are some precautions that may need to be taken in regards to a pacemaker and heart arrhythmia control. For example, cell phones can be used, as long as they are not near the pacemaker when turned on. Certain medical testing equipment, such as MRIs can be problematic, as well. If any test or procedure using electromagnetic, shock waves or electrocautery is ordered, make sure the physician knows a pacemaker is implanted.

    Though warning signs used to be placed around them, according to the Mayo Clinic, microwave ovens, like other electronic devices, are unlikely to interfere with a pacemaker.

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    References

    Arrhythmias. Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001101.htm

    Arrhythmia & Pacemaker Center. St. Francis Hospital. http://www.stfrancisheartcenter.com/patients/deptsandservices/cardiology/arrhythmia.html

    Heart Arrhythmias. Mayo Clinic Staff. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-arrhythmias/DS00290

    Pacemaker. Mayo Clinic Staff. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pacemaker/MY00276