Pacemakers: Keep pace

Common queries about pacemakers answered

A pacemaker is an electronic device that analyses the heart’s functioning. When necessary, it sends tiny, precisely-timed electrical signals to the heart to correct any abnormalities. We answer some common queries regarding this device.Man with heartbeat

Who needs a pacemaker?

Since pacemakers help normalise the heart’s function, doctors suggest pacemakers to patients whose heart beat is excessively slow or when the pause between their two heart beats is too long. However, a doctor conducts some vital tests before taking the final decision.

How are pacemakers implanted?

Pacemakers can be implanted via minimally-invasive surgery. A small incision [about three inches long] is made in the chest and the device is carefully inserted. The surgery can be done under local anaesthesia in less than 45 minutes. After implantation, the pacemaker is programmed as per the patient’s requirement.

Does one have to use the pacemaker forever?

Usually, patients end up using it for their entire lives. But, in cases like a block in the heart’s blood vessel, which can be treated over time, the pacemakers can be extracted after treatment [if the heart is fit to function on its own].

Does one feel the gadget working inside the body?

Most people never really feel the pacemaker working inside them. However, some do experience an increase in their heart beat, especially when they are tired or exerted. Doctors usually program pacemakers as per individual need such that the patient does not feel the gadget.

What are the side effects of using a pacemaker?

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, USA, says that the chances of a side effect from using a pacemaker are less than five per cent. Problems such as bleeding, infection, or a collapsed lung have been reported in extreme cases. Other side effects include low blood pressure, dizziness and fainting.

Can one detect problems in the functioning of the pacemaker?

Patients are not able to directly observe defects in the pacemaker. Experts say that if a patient experiences any of the side effects mentioned above, one of the reasons could be that the pacemaker is not synchronising with the normal rhythm of the heart. The reasons could vary from technical problems to physical damage. In such a case, consult your doctor at the earliest.

How is life after surgery?

Once the person recovers [which takes about 2 – 3 weeks], she can resume most of her daily activities. After implanting the pacemaker, patients usually observe a drastic improvement in their energy levels and stamina. This is because their heart is now functioning at its efficient best.

Can one exercise or drive?

Light exercises are OK, but you should abstain from strenuous activities such as sports for a few months after surgery. You can drive after recovery, provided it isn’t exerting.

Does it need frequent checking?

Pacemakers work on batteries, which get exhausted over time. How long the batteries last depends on your pacemaker settings. Usually, doctors call you at least once a year to get the pacemaker settings checked by an expert programmer.

Do home appliances interfere with the pacemaker’s working?

Normally, home appliances are safe and do not affect a pacemaker’s settings. But in case you start palpitating too much or feel dizzy, stop the appliance immediately and rest for some time. In general, it is advisable to stay away from all high-power and strongly-vibrating gadgets as they might hamper the settings of the pacemaker.

With inputs from Ramdas Nayak, MD, chief interventional cardiologist and electro physiologist at Vivus SMRC Heart Centre, Goa.

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