Learning About a Pacemaker

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What is a pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a small device. It sends out mild electrical signals that keep your heart beating normally. The signals are painless. It can help stop the dizziness, fainting, and shortness of breath caused by a slow or unsteady heartbeat.

A pacemaker is powered by batteries. Most pacemakers are placed under the skin of your chest. They have thin wires, called leads. The leads pass through a vein into your heart.

A pacemaker can help restore a normal heart rate. It is used when certain problems have damaged the heart's electrical system, which normally keeps your heart beating steadily.

If you are worried about having a pacemaker, it may help if you learn about how the pacemaker helps your heart. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.

How is a pacemaker put in place?

You will get medicine before the procedure. It helps you relax and helps prevent pain.

The doctor makes a cut in the skin just below your collarbone. The cut may be on either side of your chest. The doctor will put the pacemaker leads through the cut.

The leads go into a large blood vessel in the upper chest. Then the doctor will guide the leads through the blood vessel into the heart. The leads are placed in one or two of the chambers in the heart.

The doctor will place the pacemaker under the skin of your chest. The doctor will attach the leads to the pacemaker. Then the cut will be closed.

What can you expect when you have a pacemaker?

A pacemaker can help you return to a more normal, more active life.

You'll need to use certain electric devices with caution. Some devices have a strong electromagnetic field. This field can keep your pacemaker from working right for a short time. These devices include things in your home, garage, or workplace. Check with your doctor about what you need to avoid and what you need to keep a short distance away from your pacemaker. Many household and office electronics do not affect your pacemaker.

Your doctor will check your pacemaker regularly to make sure it is working right. The battery may last about 10 years. If the battery gets low, you will need to decide whether to have another surgery to replace the pacemaker.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.