If you’ve ever known someone with a serious heart condition, there’s a good chance you’ve heard talk about pacemakers. The idea of pacemakers has been around since the late 1800s, but the first implanted pacemaker, implanted in 1958, failed after three hours. They’ve come quite a long way since then, saving and extending countless lives all over the world.
Regulating the Heartbeat
Pacemakers were invented to help regulate the heartbeat. They’re small, implantable devices that sense when your heart rate is either irregular or dropping below a sustainable rate. When this occurs, the pacemaker delivers small, electrically charged impulses to the muscles of your heart to force it to maintain a heartbeat that will sustain life. This means pacemakers can control an abnormal heart rhythm, assure your ventricles are properly contracting, coordinate electrical signals between the upper and lower chambers of your heart, and prevent atrial fibrillation – or stop your atria from quivering instead of beating with a normal rhythm. Because there are so many different types of heart conditions, there are also several different types of pacemakers. If it is decided that a pacemaker is the right medical choice for your condition, your cardiologist will determine the best pacemaker option for you and schedule a surgery to implant it in either your chest or abdomen to control your heart rhythm.
How a Pacemaker Helps
Apart from preventing heart attacks, pacemakers can help prevent symptoms tertiary to heart arrhythmias. During a heart arrhythmia, your heart can beat too slowly, too fast, or irregularly – all of which have their own set of symptoms and can do damage elsewhere in the body. For example, if during your arrhythmia your heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to your body, it can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, and fainting. If this goes on long enough, the lack of blood can severely damage your vital organs. Because pacemakers regulate your heartrate, they alleviate symptoms that come with arrhythmia. Pacemakers can also help people with severe epilepsy by sending electrical impulses to the brain when they sense a seizure coming on.
Who’s a Good Candidate?
Your doctor will likely do testing before determining that a pacemaker is the right device for you. If you have blockage that he or she feels makes a heart attack imminent, or you have a heartbeat that is much slower than normal, you’re likely a good candidate. Other people who might be good candidates are:
- People who are aging or have damage from heart disease resulting in slow or abnormal heartbeats
- People who take certain heart medicines that can slow heart rates
- People who faint or exhibit other symptoms associated with slow heartbeats
- Patients who have a history of atrial fibrillation or have had a procedure to correct it
- Patients who have problems with their heart muscles
- People with congenital heart disease
- Patients who have had a heart transplant
After performing tests and asking you extensive questions about your health, your doctor will make a recommendation based on your results. If you have any questions, or feel like a pacemaker might be something you’re interested in, talk to your cardiologist.
Dr. Rohan Wagle is a board-certified cardiologist at Kelsey-Seybold. He cares for patients at Katy Clinic and Tanglewood Clinic. His clinical interests include coronary artery disease, heart failure, arrhythmias, valvular heart disease, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, preventive cardiology, chest pain, hypertension, high cholesterol, and myocardial infarctions.