If your doctor has suggested that you have a pacemaker fitted it is because you have an abnormality in the electrical pathway of your heart that upsets the regular beating of your heart. An artificial pacemaker, which is very small and battery-operated, will treat some of these abnormal heart rhythms and so improve your quality of life. A pacemaker consists of a pulse generator, placed just beneath the skin by your collarbone, and electrical leads that connect the pulse generator to the tissues of the heart.
Patients with the following conditions may be offered a pacemaker:
- Heart block
- Sick sinus syndrome
- Heart Failure (a CRT pacemaker)
The procedure is normally performed under a local anaesthetic. You will be sedated to make you relaxed. The implant routinely takes between 60–90 minutes. It is reassuring to know that serious complications from pacemakers are very unusual.
You will probably be allowed to go home the same, or the next, day provided your pacemaker is checked, there are no complications and your clinician assesses it is safe. You will be given a pacemaker identity card with details of the make and model of your pacemaker. This card should be kept with you at all times. If you require further treatment in the future it is essential that you show the card to the medical professional who is treating you.
Most pacemaker batteries last 8-12 years, when another small procedure is needed to replace the pacemaker pulse generator. The battery cannot be replaced alone. The battery, circuits and lead connectors are in one sealed unit. Usually the pacemaker wires last longer than the batteries, but they may need to be replaced every 10-20 years.
There are some small risks associated with having a pacemaker fitted.
Generally the most common are:
- A small risk of infection, bleeding and bruising at the site of implant
- A small risk of lead displacement. The pacemaker lead can move and would then need repositioning
- A small risk of damage to the lung during the procedure
You should not be aware of the pacemaker working but occasionally people are conscious of their heart beating faster, particularly if you had a very slow heart rhythm before the pacemaker was implanted.
The pacemaker will not usually stop the heart from speeding up so if you had fast palpitations before then they may continue. If this occurs the palpitations are usually treated by medicine. The pacemaker will be set to enable your own heart to work as much as possible on its own and will only come in if your heart rhythm slows down to a certain level. It works “on demand”.
There are some restrictions but these vary depending on why you have had your pacemaker fitted.
You must inform the DVLA that you have had a pacemaker implanted. It is also strongly recommended that you inform your insurance company.
For specific and detailed information please see the DVLA website