What is an Electronic Pacemaker?

Meghan Perry

An electronic pacemaker is a small medical device that generally is implanted in a person's chest to regulate the electrical impulses in the heart, thereby regulating the heartbeat. It usually is implanted in people who have arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, and it can either speed up or slow down the beating of the heart, depending on the recipient's needs. One of the most common reasons that a person gets an electronic pacemaker is to address bradycardia, which is a slower-than-normal heartbeat. It also can be used in people who have tachycardia, which is an abnormally fast heartbeat. The other common reason to have the device implanted is if the heart is blocked, for example, because of plaque buildup in the arteries.

Patients who experience irregularities in their heart rhythm may need the assistance of a pacemaker.
Patients who experience irregularities in their heart rhythm may need the assistance of a pacemaker.

In addition, an electronic pacemaker can ensure that the heart ventricles are contracting normally. It also can coordinate activity between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. Besides ensuring that the heart beats in a normal rhythm, it also ensures that the heart pumps blood more efficiently. It does all of these things by using low-level electrical impulses. The body has a natural pacemaker in its sinus node, but if that fails, an artificial pacemaker is then needed.

There are three types of electronic pacemakers. A single-chamber type of pacemaker is implanted to regulate one part of the heart. A dual-chamber type of pacemaker regulates both chambers of the heart. A rate response pacemaker responds to the recipient's activity level and adjusts its electrical impulses accordingly.

Besides regulating the electrical impulses in the heart, some electronic pacemakers can also record the electrical activity and rhythm of the heart. Some can also monitor the temperature of the blood and the rate of breathing. This can be especially useful for people who have a rate-response pacemaker.

An electronic pacemaker can be either permanent or temporary, depending on the situation. Temporary pacemakers generally are used in emergencies or immediately following surgery. Patients who have temporary pacemakers are not allowed to leave the hospital until the pacemaker is removed. It usually takes surgeons about two hours to implant a pacemaker.

The device itself weighs about 1 ounce (28.35 g). It is comprised of a battery, a computerized generator and usually one, two or three wires, which are placed in different chambers of the patient's heart. These wires have sensors, or electrodes, on one end, and the signal travels on these electrodes to the heart. The battery life of an electronic pacemaker can be five to 10 years, after which it needs to be replaced.

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