What is a pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a device that produces a low electrical current that stimulates the heart muscle to beat. Several different pacemakers exist including internal and external pacemakers. Internal pacemakers may be permanent or temporary whereas external pacemakers are temporary. Under normal conditions, the heart has its own pacemaker responsible for generating a heart rate. A normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute.

When is a pacemaker used?

The most common indication for using a pacemaker is when a patient’s heart rate is too slow. Pacemakers may also be used in patients who are at high risk to develop slow heart rates. Occasionally, a pacemaker may be useful in the evaluation of patients with very fast heart rates.

How long are pacemakers used?

Depending upon the patient’s condition pacemakers may be used for short periods of time or possibly for the rest of the patient’s life.

Does the use pacemakers cause discomfort?

The insertion of an internal pacemaker causes discomfort similar to that of a central venous catheter insertion. Once in place an internal pacemaker rarely causes discomfort. Patients do not feel the small electrical current that stimulates the heart to beat. The external pacemaker stimulates the heart to beat by passing the electrical current through pads attached to the chest. The patient, if awake, will sense this and complain of a twitching sensation or discomfort. The twitching is caused by the electrical current stimulating the muscles under the pads. Fortunately, external pacemakers are usually used for short periods of time.

What are the potential complications associated with the use of pacemakers?

The insertion of internal pacemakers may be associated with minor bleeding, poor positioning of the special pacemaker catheter, and rarely a collapsed lung. After the pacemaker is inserted, infection and pacemaker failure may occur. These are very rare events. The doctor will regularly check the pacemaker's battery power and the function of the pacemaker to assure that they are working properly.

External heart pacemaker generator

External heart pacemaker generator in use