Chances are that if you’re receiving a pacemaker, you have one of a group of conditions known as arrhythmias. Your heart’s rhythm has irregularities, due to illness, aging, or previous heart attack, and a pacemaker sends small electrical signals to restore your heart to its normal beating, when it becomes necessary.
How your heart normally works
A cluster of cells in the heart’s right atrium generates the signals that normally trigger muscle contractions. When these fire in proper sequence, your heart fills with oxygenated blood from the lungs, then pumps this blood out to your body. Normally, this happens about 60 to 100 times a minute for people at rest, and then increases when physical activity increases.
A pacemaker is implanted when this normal cycle is somehow disrupted, or if your heart is beating too slowly. Sensors in the device recognize body conditions like a slow heartbeat and send corrective signals to increase the rate. Pacemakers can also detect when you’re exercising or need more blood and adjusts the rate of beating accordingly.
Before receiving your pacemaker
Your diagnosis as a pacemaker candidate was confirmed through some form of heart monitoring.
You may have had an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, stress test, or you may have worn a Holter monitor, which records your heartbeat patterns for 24-hour periods. These tests help identify both the reasons behind your arrhythmia and the type of pacemaker that will best suit your condition.
During your pacemaker implant
One to three leads are inserted through a major vein leading to the heart, depending on your condition, and these are set in place in the heart with the assistance of diagnostic imaging. These leads are connected to the pacemaker, typically implanted under your skin near the collarbone.
You’ll receive a local anesthetic to numb the implant location, and you may also receive a sedative to help you relax.
After your pacemaker implant
Your pacemaker gets programmed to meet your required pacing, and it’s likely this is checked soon after implant. Contemporary pacemaker devices use wireless technology to communicate data, such as your heart rate and rhythm as well as the performance of your device.
The pacemaker may be able to report remotely at specified times or send alerts when certain conditions arise, but regular doctor visits are also necessary as part of your ongoing support.
Immediately following your implant procedure, you’ll refrain from heavy lifting and strenuous exertion for about a month to permit healing of incisions. There may be some minor pain in the area of the implant. You can manage this with over-the-counter pain relief.
Moving forward, you’ll need to take some precautions around devices that may cause electrical interference, even though it’s unlikely your pacemaker will be affected. It’s safe to use a smartphone, for example, but placing the phone over the implant site might be enough to send conflicting signals to the device. Other devices that may create electrical interference include:
- Airport metal detectors: Though passing through the detector won’t affect your pacemaker, ask that handheld devices not linger over the implant site.
- Power-generating equipment: Including motor generators, transformers operating at high voltages, welding generators
- Medical equipment: Such as magnetic resonance imaging, radiation for cancer treatment, or devices that use shock waves to break up kidney stones or gallstones
Dr. Calderon at Lakewood Cardiovascular Consultants is a pacemaker specialist, so if you’re in need of a pacemaker implant, contact the office by phone or online to arrange a consultation.