If You Need A Pace­maker

Our Health Writer, Colleen Shan­non, ex­plains how it can help and what to ex­pect.

The People's Friend - - Health -

WHETHER you’re ner­vous, ex­er­cis­ing or fall­ing in love, your heart­beat makes it­self felt in life’s most in­tense mo­ments.

Even when you don’t no­tice it, your heart is qui­etly beat­ing around 100,000 times per day. Each beat is trig­gered by a so­phis­ti­cated elec­tri­cal sys­tem which tells the mus­cle tis­sue when to con­tract.

When that sys­tem goes wrong, the heart may need help to get back into a steady rhythm.

For some, the an­swer is a pace­maker, a small elec­tri­cal de­vice that’s placed in­side the body.

Maureen Tal­bot, Se­nior Car­diac Nurse at the Bri­tish Heart Foun­da­tion, told me that around 40,000 pace­mak­ers are im­planted in UK pa­tients ev­ery year. Most who have this pro­ce­dure are aged sixty-five or older, but some­times younger peo­ple also get pace­mak­ers fit­ted.

The most com­mon rea­son for hav­ing a pace­maker is to treat an ab­nor­mally slow heart rate. In some peo­ple, this can cause a sud­den col­lapse, and the need for treat­ment is im­me­di­ate.

More of­ten, a slow heart rate can leave you feel­ing tired and lethar­gic. Once the pace­maker re­stores the heart to its nor­mal rhythm, symp­toms im­prove or clear up en­tirely.

Over­all, most peo­ple who have a pace­maker im­planted no­tice an in­crease in their en­ergy lev­els and gen­er­ally feel bet­ter.

The pace­maker is a small de­vice that con­sists of a box that sits just un­der your col­lar­bone, with one or more tiny elec­tri­cal leads at­tached that travel through your veins into your heart, placed in spe­cific po­si­tions so the pace­maker can work prop­erly.

Hav­ing a pace­maker fit­ted can be a short pro­ce­dure with a local anaes­thetic and, some­times, a seda­tive to help you re­lax. You can of­ten leave hos­pi­tal the same day. For al­most ev­ery­one, it’s a very straight­for­ward pro­ce­dure.

You’ll go home with ad­vice on how to pro­tect the wound site from in­fec­tion, and re­stric­tions on us­ing your left arm for the first few weeks. This is so the pace­maker leads em­bed in the cor­rect po­si­tion, and also re­duces the risk of de­vel­op­ing a frozen shoul­der.

There will be a fol­low-up ap­point­ment to check the pace­maker at your pac­ing clinic. Mean­time, make sure you know who to con­tact for ad­vice if you feel un­well af­ter you’ve had your pace­maker in­serted.

Your driv­ing will be re­stricted at first, and you’ll need to in­form the DVLA about your pace­maker. Your doc­tor or nurse can tell you more.

Pace­mak­ers run on a bat­tery that’s built to last many years. The length of time varies, but you’ll have reg­u­lar checks on the bat­tery level.

The pace­maker box will even­tu­ally need to be re­placed and this is done long be­fore the bat­tery runs out. It is a much quicker pro­ce­dure than hav­ing a whole pace­maker im­planted.

You can learn more on the BHF web­site, www.bhf.org.uk, or call the Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311 for free ad­vice and sup­port from one of the char­ity’s car­diac nurses. ■

The heart needs help at times

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