A slow heartbeat rate is called bradycardia. A slow heart rate does not necessarily mean a patient has an underlying health problem. Athletes, for example, can have very slow resting heart rates and be perfectly healthy. If a slow heart rate, however, fails to supply the body with enough blood and oxygen, bradycardia is a severe health issue. Untreated bradycardia can lead to heart failure or sudden cardiac death. The only way to treat bradycardia long-term is to implant a pacemaker. A pacemaker is a small device that is implanted under the skin or chest muscle near the collarbone. It is connected to the heart with one or two electrodes (also called “leads”) and serves as the heart’s artificial “timekeeper.” The pacemaker continuously monitors the heart’s activity, sending electrical impulses to restore a normal rhythm if it beats too slowly or irregularly.
Your physician will give you detailed instructions on how to prepare for the surgery. Usually, they will recommend patients stop taking blood thinners several days before surgery. If you take other medication regularly, ask your physician if you should continue taking the medication leading up to your procedure. In addition, you should not eat for about 12 hours prior to the implantation.
Implanting a pacemaker is a relatively simple surgery that lasts for two to four hours. You will receive antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. The intervention is performed under local anesthesia, and sometimes sedation. It is not open-heart surgery.
After preparing the incision site, the physician will make a small cut in your upper chest, well below your shoulder. He or she will insert special leads into a major vein near your collarbone. Using X-ray for visibility, the surgeon will guide the leads through your veins, positioning them in the heart’s upper and lower chambers. Then, the physician will implant the pacemaker in the “pocket” beneath the skin at the incision site. He or she will then connect the leads to the device and program it to meet your medical needs. After a test to ensure the pacemaker is working correctly, the physician will close the incision with a few stitches.
Usually, you will stay in the hospital for one or two days after the implantation. Listen carefully to and follow your physician’s instructions.
At home, monitor how the incision is healing. Your arm’s range of motion will probably be limited until the wound is completely healed. In some patients, the pacemaker forms a small but visible bulge underneath the skin. Most patients get used to this quickly.
Magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation can influence your pacemaker’s functionality. Please ask your physician about what kinds of devices can affect your pacemaker and how to avoid them, and consult your patient brochure. Always carry your patient identification card with you. In a medical emergency, it prevents physicians from running tests or doing procedures that interfere with your device.