What is it?

A pacemaker is a small device, about the size of a matchbox, which is run by a battery, electronic circuits and computer memory that together generate electronic signals through wires, or leads, which are attached to the heart wall. It helps the heart beat in a regular rhythm.

Pacemakers can help pace the heart in cases of slow heart rate, fast and slow heart rate, or a blockage in the heart's electrical system. It is programmed to stimulate the heart at a pre-determined rate, and settings can be adjusted at any time.

Reasons for a Pacemaker

The most common reason for a pacemaker is a heartbeat that slows to an unhealthy rate (bradycardia). A pacemaker resets the heart rate to an appropriate pace; ensuring adequate blood and oxygen are delivered to the brain and other parts of the body. It may also be used for:

What to Expect

Most pacemaker surgery is done under local anesthesia so the patient is awake during the procedure, but the area where the pacemaker is implanted is numb. The procedure usually takes between one and two hours.

A pacemaker is implanted just below the collarbone. If only one lead is needed, it is placed inside the lower-right chamber (the right ventricle). If two leads are needed, the other is placed in the upper-right chamber (the right atrium). The leads are then attached to the pacemaker.

Pacemakers are checked with a device called a programmer. When the programmer is held over the pacemaker, it is able to get information about how the pacemaker is working. The programmer can also be used to change the controls of the pacemaker.  Routine evaluation, in the doctor’s office or even over the telephone, ensures the pacemaker is working properly and monitors battery life, which generally runs from five to ten years.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises that if you have a pacemaker, you should be aware of your surroundings and of any devices that may interfere with it.

Here is a list of devices that will not affect or damage pacemakers. Most people do not need to worry about coming into contact with these devices.

  • CB radios
  • Electric drills
  • Electric blankets
  • Electric shavers
  • Ham radios
  • Heating pads
  • Metal detectors
  • Microwave ovens
  • TV transmitters
  • TV remote controls
  • X-ray machines
  • Airport security detectors

Here is a list of devices that will affect pacemakers. Your pacemaker may not work properly if you come into contact with these devices.

  • Power-generating equipment
  • Welding equipment
  • Certain pieces of equipment used by dentists
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines
  • Radiation machines for treating cancer
  • Heavy equipment or motors that have powerful magnets
St. Luke's Heart & Vascular