Pacemakers are battery-powered electronic devices, usually the size of a matchbox, which are implanted under the skin below the collarbone (clavicle).
They are designed to monitor and regulate the electrical activity of the heart.
Dr Daniel Robaei, a Staff Specialist Cardiologist and Lecturer at the University of New South Wales explains further; “Over time the heart’s electrical conduction system, which controls the pumping of the heart, can become impaired leading to slowing of the heart rate. A low heart rate can predispose to fainting.
“Pacemakers monitor the heart rate and take over the electrical triggering of the heartbeat, if the heart rate becomes too slow.”
Patients are usually not aware when a pacemaker has taken over control of the heartbeat.
Having a pacemaker fitted is performed in specialised cardiac theatres.
“Most pacemakers are implanted without the need for a general anaesthetic,” said Dr Robaei.
“Sedatives are administered for patient comfort and local anaesthetic is used at the implantation site to numb the local area. An incision of between 5-10cm is made in the skin under the collarbone to accommodate the pacemaker box under the skin. The leads of the pacemaker are passed to the heart via a vein under the collarbone. The pacemaker monitors and regulates the heartbeat via these leads. The incision is then closed with stitches and a sterile dressing is applied over the incision. Patients are sometimes able to go home on the same day of the procedure, but an overnight stay in hospital is often recommended.”
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There are a few precautions a patient must take after being fitted with a pacemaker however the procedure usually does not adversely affect an individuals quality of life.
“In the first two weeks after pacemaker implantation individuals must avoid certain movements of the arm and avoid the pacemaker site becoming exposed to moisture,” said Dr Robaei.
“Mobile phones rarely interfere with pacemaker function but as a precaution should not be carried in the breast-pocket over a pacemaker, and should be held on the opposite ear to the pacemaker site,” he said.
“Individuals with a pacemaker should avoid large magnetic fields which can interfere with the pacemaker, such as power stations and generators, as well as welding equipment and immediate close contact with motors. Pacemakers improve quality of life by allowing individuals to continue normal function, without being at risk of fainting.”