Nothing beats an energetically pumping heart. Most of us know that euphoric feeling you get after a nice jog or a light workout. You can intrinsically feel endorphins coursing through your veins — a hallmark of all your hard work.
As familiar and common as that is, not everyone is lucky enough to experience this high and healthy state. Instead of joy and triumph, some feel dizziness and anxiety. This twisted feeling isn’t triggered by the body hard at work, but by the heart not properly functioning.
Imagine not having energy for a light walk or even the stamina to think.
Don’t worry. This isn’t uncommon and there is a solution.
Those who suffer from recurrent irregular heart rhythms whether too fast or slow might want to consider a pacemaker. This requires a minor procedure to implant the small device.
If it’s your first glance at this topic, a pacemaker may sound scary and painful. It seems like a burden threaded with a lifetime worth of discomfort and restrictions.
You may be surprised to learn it’s not as bad as you might think! As with any surgery, there are risks, precautions, and adjustments you need to make.
Overall, however, it’s an impressively adaptable device to live with. The surgery is minor, you’re relieved of achingly tiresome symptoms, and your heart has help when it can’t produce normal heart rhythms to contract.
Ahead are more details about this life-improving cardiac device and what you can expect from the surgical process.
What is a Pacemaker for the Heart?
A pacemaker is an electronic medical device that senses irregular heart rhythms and controls your heartbeat.
It’s made up of two major components — the battery generator pack and the leads which are wires that connect the heart to the battery generator. This cardiac device is typically placed under the skin of your chest, below the collarbone.
When the heart muscle is damaged or can’t properly conduct its own electrical impulse, the pacemaker creates one for you.
Under normal circumstances, your heart has its own electrical system and a natural pacemaker that controls how it beats — the sinoatrial node (SA node).
The electrical current from the SA node spreads throughout the heart to the atrioventricular node (AV node) then to the bundle branches. This pathway is referred to as the conduction system and is what allows the ventricles to contract to produce your heartbeat.
Put simply, the small electronic device simulates the function of your SA node, which then initiates the conduction system to make the heartbeat and pump blood.
What Are the Different Types of Pacemakers?
Depending on your heart condition and symptoms, a pacemaker specialist determines which type of pacemaker is needed to coordinate your heartbeats properly.
The heart has two upper chambers — the left and right atrium — and is where the blood enters the organ. Then there are the two lower chambers — the left and right ventricle where the blood leaves the heart. The three main types of pacemakers are:
- Single-chamber pacemaker: a more simple pacemaker that has a lead placed on one of the four chambers of your heart. This could be one of the upper chambers or lower chambers. The lead will generate pacing for that area.
- Dual-chamber pacemaker: this uses two leads. One lead is placed on one of the top chambers and the other on one of the bottom chambers. These two leads work together to allow the heart to contract and relax in a normal rhythm.
- Biventricular pacemaker: also known as a cardiac resynchronization therapy device (CRT). It has three leads that connect to the right ventricle, left ventricle, and the right atrium. As the name suggests, this particular device resynchronizes the ventricles pumping motion.
With the variety of pacemakers available, there’ll be one to give you optimal results.
Who Needs a Pacemaker?
The heart is a vital organ and plays a major role in your overall health. Improper electrical workings from this organ can lead to long-lasting problems that impact your quality of life. One common concern is the development of arrhythmia, a condition where the heart has irregular rhythms.
Roughly 2.7-6.1 million people suffer from just one type of uncoordinated heart rhythms. It’s known as atrial fibrillation and is one of the most well-known types of arrhythmia.
A pacemaker can be temporary or permanent depending on the condition and its severity. This includes complications from heart failure, surgery, or medications.
Other types of arrhythmia include:
- Bradycardia – slow heartbeat. This makes you feel sluggish and dizzy.
- Tachycardia – fast heartbeats. This is characterized by heart fluttering and can trigger anxiousness and cause discomfort.
- Atrial fibrillation – abnormal heartbeats in the upper two chambers known as atria. The atria is where blood enters the heart.
- Premature heartbeats – an extra heartbeat.
Each form of arrhythmias branches off into more specific classifications depending on where the problem originates (sinus node, ventricle or atria).
You may be thinking to yourself that by definition you’ve experienced bradycardia or tachycardia… and the truth is you probably have.
With that bluntly said, having bradycardia or tachycardia doesn’t necessarily mean you have heart disease.
When you exercise, you can pretty much expect to feel fast heartbeats. And of course, it’s normal to have slower heartbeats while in deep sleep or in a resting position for an extended period of time.
Symptoms of Arrhythmia and Heart Disease
The heart is responsible for pumping blood and delivering oxygen and nutrients to your whole body.
The frequency and severity of arrhythmia or heart disease can range from occasional and mild to frequent and fatal. This can also depend on the specific condition. Doctors can tell if you have arrhythmia from routine check-ups, so it doesn’t hurt to stay on top of those annual check-ins.
There are drawbacks when your heart can’t pump correctly or effectively. Symptoms of arrhythmia or heart disease are:
- Slow or racing heartbeats
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting (syncope)
These may sound familiar and a little vague. There’s more to just symptoms that warrant the need for a pacemaker and it’s best to consult with your doctor about it.
What Can You Expect From Surgery?
So, it’s time for the pacemaker implant surgery and the nerves are kicking in. Gruesome images of deep incisions, stitches, and the gloomy idea of a surgical complication plague your mind.
As mentioned earlier, most people do well and are greatly satisfied with the outcome of the cardiac device. Adding on to that positive bit, it only takes a few hours after the initial implant surgery to get back to your reenergized self.
Before the surgery begins, you have anesthesia applied under the collarbone where the surgeon usually operates on. This is done by an anesthesiologist, a specialized doctor who plans out and gives pain medicine for surgery or emergency situations.
Typically people are awake during the operation, but that’s where the pain medications can help you relax. It’s administered intravenously (through the veins) — a quick way for the medications to kick in.
2. The Operation
This is when the magic happens! Your highly specialized cardiac physician makes a 3.8-5.1cm incision and skillfully inserts the wires (leads) under your collarbone and into one of your major veins that lead to your heart.
There are usually 2 leads, sometimes 3 depending on the specific type of pacemaker you need. These are expertly placed on a specific location of your heart. The other end is connected to the battery generator pack, which is secured underneath the skin below your collarbone.
After any surgical procedures, you’ll need ample time to recover. You might stay the night at the hospital, but once cleared to go you should have someone drive you home.
You’ll be sore where the procedure was done and medication can be prescribed if needed. It’s best to hold off on any rigorous workouts or exercises for as long as the doctor recommends and stay away from any contact activities that would impose trauma onto the chest.
Pacemaker batteries last around five to 15 years before needing to be replaced. Fortunately, the replacement procedure is often a quicker process than the initial surgery.
What’s the Life Expectancy of Someone With a Pacemaker?
It’s understandable that the idea of an implanted device with electrical control over your most critical organ could cause more health problems and shorten your life.
Contrary to reasonable belief, studies show that many people with a permanent pacemaker live just as long as those who are healthy and without one.
The exception is those who have a more significant heart condition like heart failure or those battling multiple illnesses where outcomes can widely vary.
Not only is the length of your life measurable to that of any other person, you can also gain a sense of control over your physical health. Instead of enduring tiresome, debilitating episodes of anxiety and uncertainty, you’re equipped to continue your normal life.
Live Your Life to the Beat of Your Heart
There is a chance to get your life back. You can keep up with daily activities and tackle busy days like a champ.
If you know you have a cardiac condition resulting in erratic heartbeats, consider a pacemaker and get in touch with your doctor.
Learn how the benefits can outweigh the risks and improve your quality of life.
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