What Pacemaker Fits Your Needs?
For individuals with heart problems, pacemakers can be a profoundly helpful device. These implants regulate heartbeats, either temporarily or permanently. Heart attacks and other health complications such as overdose or surgery can cause the heart to temporarily beat more slowly. Most commonly, seniors receive pacemakers to treat arrhythmia: an irregular (especially too slow) heartbeat that may be caused by aging, severe muscle damage from heart attacks, genetic defects, and some medications. Heart failure may also require the permanent use of a pacemaker.
There are three main types of pacemakers: single chamber pacemakers electrically pump the right ventricle, dual chamber pacemakers pump the right ventricle and right atrium to regulate the frequency of contractions, and biventricular pacemakers pump the left and right ventricles for people with heart failure. Healthy hearts usually have 60 to 100 beats per minute while resting, which pacemakers emulate through their two components: a pulse generator within a metal container that sends and receives electrical pulses, and “lead” wires that connect the pacemaker to your heart. Pacemakers only work when detecting arrhythmia, and some newer models lack leads. People with irregularly fast heartbeats or cardiac arrest may alternatively use an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): a larger device that shocks the heart back to a normal rhythm.
Senior citizens face health complications from implanting pacemakers more often than younger populations. Surgery and permanent use present several health complications that may severely impact older people. Still, aging makes many people prone to heart problems and pacemakers often permit a return to normalcy in one’s life. This article explains what you should know in the event of implanting and maintaining a pacemaker, as many people with heart problems do.
Implanting a Pacemaker
Before determining whether or not you need a pacemaker, doctors will often perform various tests to identify the cause of your irregular heartbeat. An Electrocardiogram (ECG) measures electrical impulses from your heart using padded electrodes on your chest. Holter monitoring involves similar measurements from a device you can wear throughout your day. Echocardiograms transmit sound waves to your heart, which your doctor can use to measure your heart’s activity on a monitor. Your doctor may use electrocardiograms and echocardiograms while you exercise in a stress test. The resulting data from any of these tests can aid in a diagnosis of your heart condition.
Surgery to implant pacemakers usually involves intravenous medication that will relax you while conscious, plus anesthesia and soap to numb and clean the incision area. During surgery, doctors use X-ray images to implant a pacemaker –which will record and receive information on your heart to and from your doctor’s office. The pacemaker will be set to your ideal heart rate and rhythm. After surgery, you would likely stay in the hospital for an additional day. Doctors recommend avoiding strenuous activities for a month, avoiding putting pressure on the implant area, and taking over-the-counter pain medications if it starts to hurt. Your doctor can monitor your pacemaker remotely.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to the risks of implant surgery, and in some cases, doctors perform alternative (often non-invasive) procedures. Uncommon risks include infection of the incision area (which careful cleaning usually prevents) and allergic reactions to dyes or anesthesia (which recourse to medical records usually prevents). Complications after surgery may include swelling, bleeding, or bruising if you take blood thinners, damage to blood vessels and nerves from the pacemaker, or collapsed lungs. These risks all depend on individuals’ circumstances, and doctors typically account for aging as a potential complicating factor; the next section of this article explains issues to avoid and things to keep in mind when using a pacemaker long-term.
Maintaining a Pacemaker
Doctors recommend several precautions against the aforementioned risks immediately following surgery. You can avoid putting pressure on the incision area by keeping the arm closest to it (usually the left arm) below your shoulder for the first few weeks after surgery. You can avoid infection by keeping the incision area dry for the first few days following surgery and having a doctor check it one week later. Afterward, you will likely have a follow-up meeting one to three months after surgery to determine how well the implant is working –and continue these follow-ups every three to six months.
After you have a pacemaker implanted and settled, you can return to everyday life and even vigorous exercise; there are only a few new safety measures to recall. Electrical items such as microwaves, televisions, radios, and electrical blankets no longer cause interference to pacemakers, but it is generally advised that you keep cell phones at least six inches away from the implant area. It is safe to hold a phone with the arm opposite your implant and avoid storing it in a shirt pocket. You should let all medical personnel know you have a pacemaker, as interference from CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging, cancer radiation treatment, shock waves treating kidney stones, electrocautery, or other electrical procedures may damage the pacemaker.
Patients with pacemakers receive ID cards stating they have a pacemaker. Carrying it in your wallet will ensure that you can pass through airport security without setting off metal detectors (which do not impact pacemaker function). Pacemaker batteries typically last from five to fifteen years, at which point you will require a battery replacement. The surgical procedure to replace the battery takes less recovery time than the original implant. Doctors will know when the battery is weakening by monitoring it in advance; however, you should tell them if you are gaining weight, have inflamed legs or ankles, or experience fainting or lightheadedness, as these may be signs the pacemaker is failing or having other adverse effects.
Anyone of any age can have a pacemaker implanted. Receiving one as a senior simply requires additional attention to any potentially complicating health conditions. As the health of your heart affects multiple other functions, having a pacemaker implanted can improve your health overall. With the right care, having a pacemaker will prolong and maintain your quality of life.
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