Your heart health and an Implantable pacemaker

Electrical impulses from the heart itself monitor your heart rhythm. When the heart's electrical conduction system is not working as it should, causing a slow or irregular heartbeat, an implantable pacemaker may be necessary to resolve the condition.

What is a pacemaker? How does it work? 

An implantable pacemaker is a small device with several parts. It contains a pulse generator, one or more leads (insulated wires), with an electrode on the end of each lead, a battery, and a tiny computer. The leads are connected to the pulse generator and run through a large vein in your chest that leads to your heart, and the end is placed inside the heart chamber. 

The electrode on the end delivers an electrical impulse from the pulse generator to your heart while tracking the heart's electrical activity. Depending on your condition, the leads may be placed in the upper heart chamber, lower heart chamber, or both. If your heart rate slows below the programmed level, the pulse generator activates, triggering a faster heart rate.

What does the surgery entail?

At San Diego Cardiac Center, we perform minimally invasive pacemaker implant procedures. The process involves the following steps:

  • An IV line will be placed in the hand or arm for the administration of medication and IV fluids.
  • You will lie on your back on the treatment table.
  • Your heart activity will be monitored by an EKG, as well as your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and oxygen levels. 
  • IV sedation is administered to help you relax and stay comfortable during the procedure. You will be awake but not nervous.
  • The site where the pacemaker will be inserted is numbed with a local anesthetic, and a small incision is placed. 
  • A catheter or sheath is introduced into a blood vessel, and a lead wire is moved into the heart. It is activated externally to ensure it is in the right location. You may have one or up to three lead wires, depending on the pacemaker device. Every action performed by our heart specialist will be guided by X-ray imaging on a monitor. 
  • The pacemaker itself is inserted through an incision below your collarbone, and the lead wires are attached. The EKG allows our doctor to ensure the device is functioning as it should.
  • Your incision may be closed with stitches, adhesive strips, or special medical glue.
  • Your pacemaker is in place, and your procedure is complete.
  • This procedure may be performed on an outpatient basis, or you may need to spend one night in the hospital.

Why come to San Diego Cardiac Center for an implantable pacemaker?

San Diego Cardiac Center has four decades of serving patients with a full array of cardiac services, including pacemaker implant procedures. We have the highest level of expertise and deliver advanced cardiac care. Our team of specialists is consistently involved in clinical research studies and often offers new therapies, devices, and treatments long before they are available at other clinics in the San Diego area. 

Implantable Pacemaker FAQs:

Is getting a pacemaker a major surgery?

While implanting a pacemaker involves a minor surgical procedure, it is considered relatively safe and routine. Most people can go home the same day or the day after the procedure. Complications are rare but can include infection, bleeding, or issues with the leads or device.

How long does a pacemaker last?

The lifespan of a pacemaker depends on factors such as the type of device, the settings, and how much it is used. Most pacemakers last between 5 and 15 years before needing replacement. The battery life of the pacemaker determines when replacement is necessary.

What activities can I do with a pacemaker?

In general, having a pacemaker should not significantly restrict your activities. However, certain precautions may be advised, such as avoiding strong magnetic fields (such as those produced by MRI machines), minimizing direct contact with devices that generate electromagnetic interference (like some security systems or industrial equipment), and avoiding extreme sports or activities that involve intense impact to the chest.

Can I travel with a pacemaker?

Yes, you can travel with a pacemaker. However, it's essential to inform airport security personnel about your device before passing through metal detectors or undergoing security screening. Additionally, it's recommended to carry a pacemaker identification card and a letter from your healthcare provider explaining your condition and the presence of the device.

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