Frequently Asked Questions About Getting a Pacemaker

Has your cardiologist recommended that you get a pacemaker?

Pacemakers often greatly improve the quality of life, and getting a pacemaker is not a traumatic procedure. Here are the answers to five frequently asked questions about implanting pacemakers by distinguished cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Ian Weisberg.

Q. What does a pacemaker do?

Your pacemaker is an implanted electronic device connected by wires to your heart. It’s usually placed near under the collarbone.

The pacemaker can detect the rhythm of your heart. If it detects that your heart has slowed down or skipped a beat, it can send an electrical signal to normalize your heartbeat.

Most pacemaker patients don’t notice the gentle electrical signal sent to the heart to correct a slow heartbeat, but they do notice that they feel better when normal rhythm is restored. After a while, you won’t notice this happening.

Q. Will my pacemaker be visible through my clothes?

A very long time ago, pacemakers were large devices worn externally. In the 1970s and 1980s, they were implantable, but they were so large that they would be obvious when you looked at the bare skin over the area in which they were implanted.

Modern pacemakers are not visible when patients are dressed or undressed. The latest generation are pacemakers are about 4 cm wide by 5 cm long, maybe an inch and a half by 2 inches, and 6 or 7 mm (less than ⅓ of an inch) thick.

It may be possible to detect an implanted pacemaker on slender patients. It’s usually placed near under the collarbone.

Q. Will my cardiologist have to stop my heart during the implantation procedure?

Your heart continues to be throughout the entire implantation procedure. The doctor does not have to stop your heart to make the connections between your heart and your pacemaker.

Q. Is pacemaker implantation done under anesthesia?

Most patients only get a local anesthetic for their pacemaker implantation procedure. You will feel a sting when the doctor gives you the injection of anesthetic to make the incision to insert the device. You may also get a mild sedative to help you relax while your are in the operating room.

Some patients, like those with dementia or movement disorders,  need general anesthesia to stay still during their pacemaker surgery. Doctors try to avoid general anesthesia because it adds risk to the procedure.

Q. How long does a pacemaker last? What happens if it needs a battery replacement?

Dr. Ian Weisberg advises his patients that most pacemaker batteries last between 6 and 8 years. Before the battery is in danger of failure, your cardiologist will be asking you to come in regularly to have it tested.

Replacing a depleted pacemaker is a lot easier than the initial procedure. The leads attached to the heart are left in place. The doctor makes an incision to remove the old pacemaker with the depleted battery and replace it with a new one. Most patients go home from the recovery room.

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