A pacemaker is a small, implantable medical device that’s used to treat bradycardia, which is a slow heartbeat. These devices are life-sustaining for individuals who have experienced a heart attack, complications due to medication, or other health issues that interfere with the heart’s ability to pump blood at an adequate rate.
For individuals with a chronic health condition or an irregular heartbeat due to necessary medication, a permanent pacemaker is implanted to help regulate heart rate using electric signals.
A temporary pacemaker may be used as part of a temporary cardiac pacing treatment for acute conditions, such as myocardial infections and extreme bradyarrhythmia in elderly individuals.
There are different types of pacemakers, which regulate the heart at different points. A single chamber pacemaker will send electrical signals to the right ventricle.
A dual chamber pacemaker will carry electric impulses to both the right ventricle and atrium, which helps to control contraction intervals between these two chambers.
A biventricular pacemaker is used as part of cardiac resynchronization therapy to simulate both the right and left ventricles. Regardless of type, most pacemakers have a pulse generator and leads as their primary components.
The pulse generator keeps the pacemaker battery and the circuitry that controls electrical pulses, which are delivered through the leads.
The leads are insulated wires that connect directly to one or more of the heart’s chambers, although some more advanced pacemakers bypass this component by direct implantation into the heart muscle.
Additional sensors may be incorporated to detect breathing rate or motion. The feedback is then used to regulate heart rate based on activity.
Pacemaker implantation takes a few hours and is typically carried out while the patient is conscious but sedated and numbed with a local anesthetic. This procedure is simplified with leadless pacemakers.
Leadless pacemaker placement is completed through a catheter and is less invasive than standard pacemaker surgery. Once implanted, the pacemaker is programmed according to heart rhythm requirements.
Pacemakers are sophisticated electrical devices that are made to complex and rigorous medical standards. Although they are highly resilient and are unlikely to be significantly affected by electrical interference, people with pacemakers are advised to take special precautions.
Certain diagnostic and medical treatments can interfere with pacemakers and pacemakers may cause complications.
This includes MRIs, CT scans, radiation treatment, electrocautery, and shockwave lithotripsy, among others. Pacemakers can trigger alarm systems in metal detectors.
Talking on a cell phone shouldn’t create a problem, but devices should be kept at least six inches from the pacemaker’s placement. This means that cell phones and similar devices shouldn’t be worn in a shirt pocket or held close to the chest for long periods.
If patients work around high-power electrical equipment, such as transformers and generators, doctors should arrange a test to determine how this equipment affects the performance of the pacemaker.
Most modern pacemakers will automatically adjust to physical activity and enable patients to live an active lifestyle, but it will be necessary to periodically check the device to ensure it’s functioning as it should.
Feelings of fatigue, dizziness, swelling of the ankles, and weight gain could indicate a problem. Pacemaker battery life ranges between five and 15 years and replacement will require a medical procedure, but one that is less invasive than the initial pacemaker insertion.
Advances In Pacemaker Battery Technology
Improvements to pacemaker battery technology can amount to a much easier course of treatment for people with bradycardia. This also applies to other individuals with battery-powered medical implants, including deep-brain stimulation devices, drug delivery microchips, and neurologically controlled prosthetics.
Researchers have been looking at better ways to power these devices and extend the life of implanted batteries—or completely eliminate the need for them. Glucose fuel cells are one possibility. These are power cells that convert glucose naturally found in the body into electrical energy.
The technology is not new, but the challenge of scaling down the necessary materials to create an ultra-small, glucose-powered pacemaker battery is still being confronted. If this technology could be made commercially viable, it would be possible to create pacemakers that never need battery replacement.