We do pacemakers all the time. It seems like every morning, somebody is heading off to the cath lab to get a pacemaker.

In fact, every year in the United States, between 200,000 and 300,000 people end up getting pacemakers.

Perhaps someone in your family has one? Or maybe even you do?

Most people have heard of pacemakers, but quite often I find myself explaining to patients and family members how they work, so I figured I would take a quick moment to give you a bit of education.

When your heart beats too slowly, you do not perfuse your brain, organs, and vital tissues with an adequate volume of oxygen rich blood. Sometimes your heart beats in an irregular rhythm and this also impacts your body’s supply of oxygen rich blood. Some of these situations can be managed with medications, but sometimes that’s not enough.

You see, we have specialized cells in our heart, in an area called the sinoatrial (SA) node, that function to keep our hearts beating regularly and in rhythm. We all basically have our own pacemakers built into our hearts.

These cells only make up about 1% of our cardiomyocytes (cardiac muscle cells), but they are responsible for spontaneously initiating the electrical impulses that start each contraction of our heart. Now sometimes, these pacemaker cells stop working effectively. This can happen from age, heart attacks, infections, or any other number of reasons.

When your heart can’t keep up with a normal pace (60-100 beats per minute in healthy adults), and medications aren’t doing enough to make a drastic impact, you made need to have a pacemaker surgically implanted.

Pacemakers effectively function to provide a “back-up” rhythm when the SA node doesn’t work properly or when impulses are blocked somewhere in the conduction system.

The typical pacemaker patient comes to us with their heart in a bradycardic state, that is, their heart is beating less than 60 beats per minute. Often times, they feel sluggish, have syncopal episodes, and just have an overall feeling of malaise. As soon as we implant a pacemaker and their hearts starts beating at 60 or 70 beats per minute, they are often amazed at how good they feel.

A pacemaker consists of a few wires, sensors, a computerized generator and a battery. The sensors detect the electrical activity of your heart and if that activity is abnormal, the pacemaker can send electrical signals to your heart and cause it to contract and stay in rhythm.

There a few type of pacemakers that include single chamber, dual chamber, and biventricular configurations, but they all essentially function to do the same thing; keep you heart beating in a steady, healthy rhythm.

New technologies allow many pacemakers to record all kinds of data about your heart and wirelessly upload and transmit data to your cardiologist. It’s like having the cardiologist right there with you at all times!!!

Here at WVMC, we specialize in pacemaker implantation and we are always here for you if you have any questions.