This is a procedure to insert an artificial pacemaker. A pacemaker is a small, battery-operated device. It helps maintain a normal heartbeat by sending electrical impulses to the heart.
Reasons for Procedure
A pacemaker can be inserted when:
- The body's natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial (SA) node, is not working properly—this can cause the heart to beat too slowly
- There are malfunctions in the atrioventricular (AV) node, which is the part of the heart’s electrical system that sends signals from the SA node to the ventricles—this leads to a slow heartbeat
- Heart performance in people with severe symptoms of congestive heart failure and a weakened heart muscle, known as cardiomyopathy, needs to be improved—his is called biventricular pacing, or cardiac resynchronization therapy
- Cardiac surgery is being done
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a pacemaker inserted, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
- Excess bleeding
- Pacemaker malfunction
- Inappropriate stimulation of the diaphragm, which is the large muscle between chest and abdominal cavities
- Rupture in the heart muscle—rare
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- History of smoking
- History of excess alcohol consumption
- Bleeding or blood-clotting irregularities
- Regular use of some medications
- Chronic disease
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Before the procedure, your doctor will likely do:
- Blood tests
- Chest x-rays—to look at the heart's structure
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)— to record the heart's activity
In the days leading up to the procedure:
- Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
- Eat a light meal the night before the procedure. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
Local anesthesia will be used. This means that only the area being operated on is numbed. It is given as an injection.
Description of the Procedure
You will lie flat on a table. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing will be monitored. A small incision will be made beneath your collarbone. The pacemaker will be inserted through this incision. The wires will be threaded through a vein under the collarbone to your heart. Lastly, the incision will be closed with stitches.
Before you leave the care center, the pacemaker will be programmed to fit your pacing needs. When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
- Avoid strenuous activity, especially involving the upper body, for 4-6 weeks.
- Avoid excessive movement of the arm/shoulder on the side of the pacemaker for 2 weeks. This will help you to avoid dislodging the leads. You may be given a sling to wear to help remind you.
Now that you have a pacemaker,
you may need to avoid:
- MRI scans
- Heat therapy—often used in physical therapy
- High-voltage or radar machinery such as electric arc welders, high-tension wires, radar installations, or smelting furnaces
- Contact with radio or television transmitters
- Do not carry a cell phone in a pocket directly over the device. Keep the phone on the side away from the device. Headphones worn with MP3 players may also cause interference.
- Turn off car or boat motors when working on them. They may confuse your device.
- Tell your doctors and dentist that you have a pacemaker.
- Check with your doctor about the safety of going through airport security detectors with your device.
- Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.
A hard ridge may form on the skin along the incision. This usually recedes as the wound heals.
Call Your Doctor
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Heartbeat irregularities
- New symptoms
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
ACC/AHA Guideline Update for Implantation of Cardiac Pacemakers and Antiarrhythmic Devices. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=46413. Accessed June 13, 2016.
Heart Failure Society of America. HFSA 2006 Comprehensive Heart Failure Practice Guideline. J Card Fail. 2006;12:e1-2.
What is a pacemaker? American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300451.pdf. Published 2015. Accessed June 13, 2016.
11/19/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com: Lee S, Ransford B, et al. Abstract 662: electromagnetic interference (EMI) of implanted cardiac devices by MP3 player headphones. Circulation. 2008;118:S596.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.