Understanding Pacemakers

There are areas in the heart called pacemakers that send electrical signals to the rest of the heart, setting the speed or pace of the heartbeat. They help it speed up during exercise or hard work, and to slow down again during rest. If natural pacemakers are injured or fail to do their job, a miniaturized medical device called a cardiac pacemaker can be implanted in the chest wall.

An artificial pacemaker is a small unit that uses batteries to produce the electrical signals that make the heart pump. Attached to the battery are two electrodes that connect it with the heart. Under local anesthesia, the pacemaker is implanted under the skin of the chest wall, and the electrodes are threaded through a vein near the collarbone and guided to the heart muscle. The artificial cardiac pacemaker regulates heartbeats by sending electrical impulses to the heart muscle. When the muscle is stimulated, it contracts or beats.

Artificial pacemakers range from the simple to the sophisticated. Fixed-rate pacemakers produce constant electrical impulses at a rate preset by the healthcare provider. Demand-type pacemakers have a special component that allows them to monitor the heart and generate impulses only when necessary.

There are few side effects or surgical complications associated with artificial pacemakers, but like any manmade device, they are subject to failure. They do need to be checked regularly. To varying degrees, all pacemakers are sensitive to electrical interference from microwaves, electrical generators and similar equipment, depending upon how well-shielded they are.

Individuals are encouraged to carry a letter or identification card stating that they have an artificial pacemaker. They should also inform their dentist and other healthcare providers of their condition.

If you have further questions about the artificial cardiac pacemaker or are having any heart problems, see your healthcare provider. Artificial cardiac pacemakers can save lives and make living much more comfortable.

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