A pacemaker is a small implantable device that sends low-energy electrical signals to the heart to correct abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) or to minimize heart "quivering" (atrial fibrillation or AFib). It is made up of a computerized generator, a battery, and tiny wires or sensors that detect electrical activity.
A pacemaker can:
- Speed up or slow down heart rhythm
- Coordinate signals between the upper and lower chambers of the heart
- Coordinate signals between the ventricles
Pacemaker surgery procedure
Pacemaker implant surgery is a minor procedure that takes just a few hours. You will first be given an intravenous (IV) line and medication through the IV to help you feel relaxed and drowsy. The surgeon will also numb the area of pacemaker insertion so you will not feel the incision (cut). The surgeon gently threads the pacemaker wires through a vein in order to connect the sensors to specific parts of the heart. X-ray technology helps the surgeon to visualize the area and place the wires in the correct spots. A small box, containing the battery and generator, is then inserted just beneath the skin, usually in the chest or abdomen, and is connected to the wires that connect to the heart. The surgeon will then test the pacemaker before closing up the incision.
Recovery from pacemaker surgery
Pacemaker surgery usually involves an overnight stay at the hospital so that your care team can monitor you and make sure there are no signs of infection or other problems related to surgery. The staff will also continuously test the pacemaker to make sure everything is working properly.
You may be advised to avoid heavy lifting or vigorous activity for about 30 days after pacemaker surgery. You may also experience some pain, swelling and tenderness in the area where the pacemaker was implanted. Follow your doctor's instructions for pain-relieving medications and any other guidance provided to you.
For the long term, keep in mind that a pacemaker is an electrical device that does affect or can be affected by other electrical signals, such as those from:
- Cell phones
- Household appliances
- Metal detectors
Certain medical tests such as an MRI can also disrupt a pacemaker. Your doctor will advise you on how to be safe and get the best results from having a pacemaker.
You will also need to have regular check-ins with your doctor to ensure the pacemaker is working properly and to monitor your condition. You may eventually need to have the battery replaced as well. Pacemaker batteries last for about five to seven years. Pacemaker leads (the wires) may also wear out eventually and may require replacement.