Pacemakers have been saving lives for more than 50 years. Quite different from the original device, today’s pacemakers are smaller than a deck of playing cards, externally programmable, and can last up to 10 years. While the most common uses are to manage arrhythmias, there are several cardiac disorders that can be improved by a pacemaker. Here’s a look at occasions when a pacemaker might make a difference.
Arrhythmias are a group of conditions in which the heart fails to beat consistently. There are several types, which may require different forms of assistance from a pacemaker. The most common types of arrhythmias eased by pacemakers include bradycardia, tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation.
With bradycardia, the heart beats too slowly, while tachycardia is a condition in which the heart can begin to beats too quickly. Atrial fibrillation, on the other hand, occurs when the two atria—the upper chambers of the heart—beat irregularly, allowing blood to pool, and preventing the top half of the heart from working with the lower half properly. Long QT syndrome, a condition in which heightened stress or periods of activity can initiate extremely dangerous arrhythmias may also be helped by a pacemaker.
Sinoatrial Node Disorders
Another of the more common uses of a pacemaker is to regulate a heart block, which occurs when the electrical signal sent out by the sinoatrial (SA) node is interrupted. There are a variety of causes of heart blocks, including heart attacks and muscular dystrophy.
Other cardiac diseases, and even just age, can be problematic for the SA node, which is responsible for initiating the atria’s contractions during each heartbeat. Sick sinus syndrome is a condition in which the SA node alternates between beating too slowly and too quickly.
Pacemakers can also be used for cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), which may be necessary during heart failure. Other cardiac issues that prevent electrical signals from traveling efficiently may require a pacemaker.
Additionally, some medications like beta blockers may slow the heart to such a degree that a pacemaker is needed to balance out medication and pulse rate.