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Side effects of pacemakers and defibrillators

Side effects of pacemakers and defibrillators

More than 1 in 10 adults in the United States has been diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease continues to be a leading cause of death and every 40 seconds somewhere someone is experiencing a heart attack. These alarming statistics are due to the aging population as well as the unhealthy habits people have developed in the last century, including less exercise and more fatty foods.

pacemaker side effects

With such high statistics, it would seem people would educate themselves more regarding the risks for people with heart disease. Yet, many people don’t attempt to understand the disease or the heart devices that are used to assist in an emergency until they, or someone with whom they are close, experiences an issue. Understanding risks, and how these devices work, could assist in saving somebody’s life, possibly even their own.

When someone experiences a heart emergency, the first thing they should do is call 911. They should also try to find out what type of device the person may be equipped with, so they are able to help that person’s heart get back to beating at a normal rate and rhythm. Having this information will enable them, and any emergency workers, to provide the person experiencing the emergency with the proper care.

There are several devices on the market that help normalize a heart that is beating too slow or beating too fast. Some of these devices are implanted under the skin, while others are utilized outside the body. Here is a look at three types of devices that can be used to restore normal heart function.

When a Patient is Equipped with a Pacemaker

pacemaker equipment

When a person experiences lightheadedness or dizziness for a prolonged period, this may be the first clue they have an issue with their heart. Getting emergency help in this situation should be a priority, as these feelings are not normal. The person may be a candidate for a pacemaker.

A pacemaker is a device implanted under the skin on the left side of the chest. The primary function of a pacemaker is to keep a person’s heart rate regular. They are primarily prescribed to people who experience arrhythmias or slowing of the heart’s beats. This type of arrhythmia is called a bradycardia.

The pacemaker will regulate the electrical pulses being sent to the heart through a series of leads placed in one to three chambers of the heart. Pulses will only be sent when the pacemaker senses the heart is beating too slow.

Are There Any Side Effects Associated with Pacemakers?

side effects associated with pacemakers

The risk of side effects from having a pacemaker inserted is relatively low. They are associated with the surgery procedure itself more than with the device. As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection at the surgical site, as well as swelling or bruising. Another risk would be going under anesthesia.

A pacemaker can malfunction or stop working properly. If this happens, the person with the pacemaker may start to experience the same signs of bradycardia, which include lightheadedness and feeling dizzy. They should seek medical help right away.

When a Patient Needs a Pacemaker Defibrillator

A pacemaker defibrillator has some of the same functions as a pacemaker. The technology of the pacemaker is combined with a defibrillator device also known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD. This device sends a shock to the heart to maintain a regular heartbeat. The ICD can send a low pulse, like the pacemaker, but it can also send a higher voltage shock if the low shock doesn’t work.

The ICD implant is recommended when the patient experiences a type of arrhythmia known as a ventricular tachycardia as well as a heartbeat that is out of rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation. The first is when the heart beats too fast. Both conditions could lead to cardiac arrest.

defibrillator side effects

For a patient to have an ICD implant, there must be no other correctional action that can be taken to restore proper heart function. Sometimes medications can help the heart maintain a normal beat.

Are There Any Side Effects Associated with Pacemaker Defibrillators?

The side effects of pacemaker defibrillators include what is known as an ICD storm. In this situation, the ICD has sent shock signals to the heart two or more times within 24 hours. When this happens, the patient needs to seek medical care to ensure the device isn’t malfunctioning or there isn’t a bigger issue happening with the heart.

As with any surgery, there is the risk of infection or bruising around the surgical site. A patient could also experience bleeding around the heart or blood leaking through the valve that houses the ICD lead. Both situations require medical care.

When a Patient Requires an AED

Unlike the pacemaker and ICD, an AED device does not require an implant. AED stands for an automated external defibrillator. Depending on the type of AED an individual needs, a prescription may or may not be required. AEDs are commonly located in public buildings, including schools, and business offices. The next time you walk into a public building, see if you can locate the defibrillator.

Note that there are some medical emergencies like asystole that are not a shockable rhythm, meaning a shock from an AED can’t save the individual.

external defibrillator side effects

An AED is used when a person is suspected of experiencing a cardiac arrest. The device sends a shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm. If a person has had a heart attack in the past and experienced damage, or has experienced ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, their doctor may suggest they keep an AED on hand.

cardiac arrest safety


Can an AED Be Used with a Pacemaker or ICD?

There is always a risk that an ICD or pacemaker can fail to work. If this happens, and the person who has the implant experiences an arrhythmia or even cardiac arrest, an AED could save their life.

An AED can be used with a pacemaker or ICD, but the person using the AED needs to be sure to place the AED pads a few inches below the implanted device. This placement will still be fine if the AED pads are still placed on either side of the heart.

How to Use an AED

The companies which manufacture AEDs must assume most of the people who will use them in an emergency will have no prior experience or practice. For this reason, many AEDs will instruct the user on how to use the device as the emergency event is happening. Having this knowledge should give you comfort if you are even faced with a situation in which you might need to use one.

  1. The first thing you need to do is power up the device and wait for video or audio instructions. If there is a screen with a picture, do as the picture shows. 
  2. Open the person’s shirt and wipe their chest so that it is dry. Water can interfere with the pads and the conducting electricity. 
  3. Attach the pads to the person’s chest and make sure the pads are attached to the AED. You may need to plug in the connector.
  4. The AED may need to assess the person’s heart rhythm. If so, give it time to determine if an electric shock is needed. 
  5. If the device recommends the person receive a shock, press the “shock” button.
  6. Do not touch the person when they receive the shock from the AED and announce for anyone who is present to “stand clear.”
  7. Perform CPR if the person is not breathing after receiving the shock. The AED should continue monitoring. 

how to use a defibrillator


Delivering emergency treatment can be a scary event, but thousands of lives have been saved when AEDs have been used to revive someone suffering cardiac arrest. In these situations, fear must be put aside. When emergency personnel arrive, step aside.

It is imperative that you utilize the AED quickly, as every minute that passes, there is a 10 percent decrease in the victim’s chances of survival. After 10 minutes, it is usually too late to save a victim of sudden cardiac arrest, which is one reason the survival rate is only 8 to 10 percent for SCA victims. Our mission at AED USA is to increase awareness of the importance of having more AEDs accessible in all businesses and in the homes of those who are at higher risk of experiencing SCA.


In the United States, over 12 percent of adults have been diagnosed with heart disease, making the likelihood of needing lifesaving intervention common. The more people are familiar with how heart products work, the more likely they will be knowledgeable in the necessity of intervention.

Understanding the symptoms of an arrhythmia event will also lesson the likelihood of symptoms not being taken seriously. The sooner a person receives intervention and life saving measures such as AEDs and CPR, the more likely the person is to survive their emergency.

Implants and AEDs are common in culture, yet not always recognized. Sharing your knowledge regarding how to use AEDs and why people may need ICDs or pacemakers could also help spread awareness to save lives. No one should ever fear picking up an AED and using it.

side effects


If you’re worried about your own heart health, see your doctor so you can get a diagnosis if there is an issue, or have peace of mind if there isn’t. If you believe an AED may be right for your household, talk to your physician and share your concerns. If someone in the home has had heart issues in the past, it may be that an AED would be beneficial if another emergency were to occur.

If you suffer from heart disease or have had past heart issues, you may be at higher risk of experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. Having an AED in your home and workplace would be the protective measure that saves your life or the life of a family member or employee. Get in touch with the experts at AED USA, and let’s discuss your options today.


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