What does a Pacemaker do?

Advances in medical technology have allowed new breakthroughs in procedures and instruments that give doctors the best possible chance at saving lives. New and innovative equipment has been invented to overcome illness and disease, which are making complex and difficult surgeries much safer and more effective. One such invention is the pacemaker. Pacemakers are surgically implanted into a patient to regulate their heart beat. The human heart beats roughly 100,000 times a day, which equals 35 million times a year and more than 2.5 billion times in an average person’s lifetime. With those statistics in mind, for people who suffer from bradycardia, or slow or irregular heart beat rhythms, a pacemaker can be a lifesaving piece of technology.

PacemakerCredit: Wikimedia

What is a Pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a device that controls the rate of the heart beat in patients whose hearts have in some way been damaged and therefore beat at a slower or irregular rate. Undertaken as a surgical procedure, the pacemaker is inserted into the patient’s chest and is wired to the heart to monitor the heart’s rhythm, and if necessary, deliver an electrical impulse to help keep the heart pumping and beating at regular intervals.

How do Pacemakers Work?

The pacemaker that is inserted into a patient’s chest runs on a battery. The lithium battery-powered pacemaker monitors the heart and emits timed electrical pulses to keep the heart beat rhythm regular over several years. The pacemaker’s battery and pulse generator are in a case made of titanium and is roughly the size of a biscuit. Wires are connected to a block that is fixed to the titanium case.

The electrical pulse that the pacemaker generates is sent through special leads that are made from fine, flexible, insulated wire and connect from the pulse generator to the patient’s heart. In most cases, two leads are implanted, one to the heart’s right atrium and one to the right ventricle. These leads then monitor the heart’s rhythm so it can send out an electrical pulse if the heart beat becomes too slow or irregular. This electrical pulse will shock the heart back into its normal rhythm again.

How is a Pacemaker Inserted into a Patient?

The Pacemaker Surgery

Surgery is required for a patient to receive a pacemaker. Implanting a pacemaker is a simple procedure that usually only requires the use of a local anaesthetic. A pacemaker is usually inserted in the upper area of the patient’s chest, slightly under the collarbone and just underneath the skin’s surface.

During surgery, the lead of the pacemaker is inserted through a vein in the area near the collarbone and is then gently fed through to the relevant chamber in the heart, either the atrium or the ventricle. The surgeon will use x-rays to confirm that the lead is in the correct position.

Next, a series of electrical measurements and tests are performed to make sure that the pacemaker is functioning correctly and is in the right position. The leads are then connected to the pacemaker and placed in the body before the opening is stitched up and dressed with a bandage.