If You Need A Pacemaker
Our Health Writer, Colleen Shannon, explains how it can help and what to expect.
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