Keeping the Pace: How Pacemakers Work

Believe it or not, we’re all born with a pacemaker inside of us. There’s a small node right above the heart whose main job is to send an electrical signal to the heart’s chambers, telling them to contract. This process results in blood being pumped throughout the body. Different factors can lead to the weakening of that node and the heart itself, therefore creating a heartbeat that is too slow or too fast. A pacemaker’s job is to act in place of that node to keep the heart ticking regularly and on time every day. 

What does it do?
A pacemaker’s main function is to keep the heart beating regularly by emitting a small electric pulse directly into the heart, forcing it to beat on time. It is made up of wires and electronic circuits encased in metal. 

Where is it implanted?
It is implanted under the skin in the upper region of the chest located near the shoulder. The wires of the pacemaker are strung through the veins in the shoulder and implanted into the heart’s generator via X-ray technology. 

How does it work?
There are three major types of pacemakers: single chamber, dual chamber and biventricular. Single chamber pacemakers emit an electronic signal to the right ventricle of the heart. Dual chamber pacemakers emit the signal to the right ventricle and atrium as well as coordinates pulses for each. Biventricular pacemakers use a system called cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) to send pulses to the right atrium and the right and left ventricles.

Demand and Rate-Responsive
There are two types of programming available for modern pacemakers: demand and rate-responsive. Demand programming measures the heartbeat and provides assistance via electronic pulse when the heart beats too fast or too slow. Rate-responsive programming fires pulses based on the person’s level of activity, measuring breathing and blood temperature. 

How long do they last?
Modern pacemakers have a life of six to ten years, depending on the level of programming and activity. Every time a pacemaker emits a pulse, its battery becomes slightly drained. Temporary pacemakers are affixed externally to the body in times of need, such as during cardiac arrest or heart attacks, to help maintain the levels and beat patterns of the heart.

For more information on pacemakers and heart health, contact us at the Medical Center of Plano. Visit us online at HeartLink or give us a call at 972-519-1307. To find a physician near you, visit our online physician directory. 

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