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different types of pacemakers and implantable defibrillators

Different Types of Pacemakers and Implantable Defibrillators: What They Do and How They Will Affect Your Life

If you or a loved one will be receiving a pacemaker or an implanted defibrillator in the near future, you more than likely are asking yourself these common questions:

  • Is the surgical procedure safe? 
  • How long does a pacemaker last? 
  • Will you need to avoid everyday activities? 
  • Will you be able to return to work? 

And, more importantly, what are the differences between the various types of pacemakers and implantable defibrillators and how do they function to benefit the heart? 

There is a lot to learn about pacemakers, including the medical conditions that require a pacemaker, the risks of surgery, and the steps that must be taken to move forward after surgery that will ensure the best outcome and optimal health.. 

Certain things about your lifestyle might change—minor things as simple as where you carry your cell phone to something more complex, like choosing a new line of work that is more compatible with your state of health.

Regardless, if you dedicate yourself to learning as much as you can, you will be healthier and stronger than you were before.

What are Pacemakers? 

Pacemakers, as their name suggests, help the heart beat at a steady pace. They are tiny electrical devices that are surgically implanted under the skin of your chest and are usually connected to your heart with one or many electrodes. 

In addition to controlling your overall heart rate, pacemakers can be tailored to your specific medical condition. Different types of pacemakers stimulate different parts of the heart. 

Pacemakers are usually implanted under your skin near your heart, but there are options currently in the works that allow the surgeon to put the device directly onto your heart.

Depending on your medical condition, you might not have to rely on a pacemaker forever. However, if it looks like your pacemaker is going to be your new lifelong companion, don’t despair! Many people find that after they get used to their new life with a pacemaker and they hardly notice the device. 

For example, if your problem is a slow heart rhythm, it’s possible that you can return to higher levels of activity than before after you get a pacemaker that returns your heart rhythm to a more steady one. You’ll have no more dizzy spells or lightheadedness when you are getting enough oxygen to your body!

Different Types of Pacemakers and Implantable Defibrillators

Which Health Conditions Require Pacemakers? 

Any medical condition that leads to surgery—even if it is a relatively minor surgery—can be frightening to consider. There are several reasons why your doctor might recommend a pacemaker as your best option for remaining as healthy as possible:

1. You Survived a Heart Attack.

Did you know that after a heart attack, your heart might beat slower than it did before? If you are elderly, at risk for another heart attack, or have other underlying conditions that put your overall health in jeopardy, your doctor might recommend that you have a pacemaker implanted as an insurance policy.

2. You Have a Condition like Long QT Syndrome.

There are several medical conditions that might require a pacemaker, but Long QT syndrome can be a particularly dangerous diagnosis. If you suffer from random arrhythmias when you exercise, feel stressed, or participate in strenuous activity, your doctor might run an EKG to test you for this syndrome. A pacemaker will help your heart stay calm and beat normally.

3. You Have an Arrhythmia or an Abnormally Slow Heartbeat.

An arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, can be nothing to worry about, or it can be a very serious condition requiring medical treatment. Your heart might speed up or slow down when you don’t want it to, such as when you’re exercising, sleeping, or being intimate with your partner. You may not be able to pump enough blood to power your body with oxygen, or your heart might beat so fast that it becomes dangerous to your health.

4. You Take Beta Blockers. 

Beta blockers are prescribed for a wide variety of reasons, but in all cases, they can slow the heart’s rhythm. If you need to remain on beta blockers for a medical condition, but your heart rate is dipping too low, your doctor might want you to have a pacemaker implanted as a precaution.

Different Types of Pacemakers 

Pacemakers do not always pump your heart full of electricity. They only work when you need them to work. 

If your heart is having a good day, your pacemaker will take the day off. If you are exercising and your heart is not beating fast enough to get oxygen to your brain, which could result in you fainting, your pacemaker will activate, sending electrical signals to your heart. 

This will help your heart beat faster to keep up with your level of exercise. The newest pacemakers are being built to detect motion and the rate of your breathing so they can jump ahead to correct the problem before it begins.

1. Single Chamber Pacemakers

You probably know by now that your heart has four chambers. A single chamber pacemaker is possibly the most common type, and it is able to control the heartbeat by connecting an electrode, or “lead”, to one chamber. A pacemaker attached to the right ventricle, which is the lower right chamber, stimulates the ventricle to respond when the heart contracts. This results in a steady heartbeat and is often used for patients with chronic atrial fibrillation.

2. Dual Chamber Pacemakers

This type of device features two leads, which are attached to the right atrium (on the top) and the right ventricle (on the bottom). This allows the pacemaker to simulate the natural contracting and relaxing rhythm of the heart.

3. Biventricular Pacemakers

You might have guessed it already … This pacemaker has three leads. They are attached to both ventricles as well as the right atrium. In patients with advanced heart failure, this type of pacemaker, while it seems extreme, might be necessary in order to keep the  heart pumping at a steady rate.

What are Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators? 

You may be familiar with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that are usually found in brightly colored cabinets hanging on walls of public place where crowds often gather. They, sometimes hang near fire extinguishers.. These are becoming more popular as more people are recognizing their value for saving sudden cardiac arrest victims. They are amazing medical devices that anybody can use in SCA situations to help a victim.

Implantable defibrillators, like pacemakers,  are smaller AEDs that are implanted underneath the skin near the heart. ICDs keep track of the heart rate and are able to send a controlled amount of electrical shock, similar to their larger AED counterpart, that is strong enough to correct the heartbeat in many cases.

ICDs are not for everyone, and they are not as widely used as pacemakers in order to correct heart problems, but they have prevented the death of many patients with known heart problems. 

If you or your loved one has recently survived a heart attack, has long QT syndrome, or has a congenital heart defect that predisposes him to cardiac arrest, an ICD may be in your future. 

Types of Implantable Defibrillators 

ICDs are implanted under the skin near the heart, like pacemakers, and they are connected to the heart with leads (electrodes). The most common types should look familiar to you now that you know more about pacemakers.

1. Single and Dual Chamber

Single chamber ICDs are attached to the right ventricle, and dual chamber ICDs are attached to the right atrium and the right ventricle. 

Unlike pacemakers, an ICD might do nothing for most of its life—unless it is stimulated by the heart stopping or slowing down too much, at which point it will give the heart a shock to bring it back to a functioning state. Some types of ICDs also work as pacemakers, giving the devices a dual purpose.

2. Biventricular

These ICDs are like biventricular pacemakers in the sense that they are attached to the right atrium, the right ventricle, and the left ventricle. The way in which they are different, though, is important: biventricular ICDs are used in heart failure patients to resynchronize the heart’s rhythm.

3. Subcutaneous

Subcutaneous ICDs hold the advantage of being placed under the skin on your chest without any wires or leads running through your circulatory system. The more components of a device that are implanted in your body, the more likely it is that your body will reject them with an infection. S-ICDs are able to shock the heart out of arrhythmia, but cannot provide any pacemaker benefits due to their lack of leads. 

What to Expect Moving Forward 

After your pacemaker is implanted, you will probably have a brief hospital stay so that your doctor can make sure the device is functioning correctly. Depending on the type of pacemaker you have, your medical team will also program it to fit your specific needs. 

After you return home, your pacemaker will transmit electrical signals to your doctor, which will minimize the need for numerous check-up appointments.

If you haven’t already, you should begin living a heart-healthy lifestyle, such as eating a diet that leads to heart health and exercising, if you are able. 

If your doctor recommends purchasing an AED for your home, contact AED USA today. Our AED experts can guide you through the process of purchasing the right device for your specific needs and help you manage it. 

Keep up with your medical appointments, take good care of yourself,  and do your best to live your best life while protecting your precious heart.

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