What Should I Expect Following Pacemaker Implant Surgery?

What is a pacemaker implant? Well, a pacemaker implant is a small medical device that is placed inside of your abdomen or chest to help manage irregular heart rhythms. A pacemaker implant uses electrical impulses to stimulate your heart to beat at a healthy, normal rate. This device is used to treat cardiac arrhythmias (i.e. an accelerated heart rate, heart palpitations, skipped beats, and a delayed/slow heart rate). A cardiac arrhythmia is characterized as an abnormal or irregular heart rate or rhythm. When your heartbeat is too fast it is called tachycardia, and when your heartbeat is too slow is called bradycardia.

If you have an arrhythmia, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to keep your organs functioning at optimal level. This can cause a variety of symptoms such as: shortness of breath, dizziness/lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, and/or extreme fatigue. Arrhythmias can damage your vital organs, and/or cause death, in severe cases. If you are experiencing severe fatigue, and/or a loss of consciousness, a cardiologist may recommend a pacemaker implant to relieve your symptoms. A pacemaker implant can stabilize your heart rate, and improve your quality of life.

Surgery

During the pacemaker implant surgery, your cardiologist will numb the incision area so that you do not feel pain or discomfort during the procedure. He/she may also give you antibiotics prior to the surgery to ward off potential infections. Your cardiologist will then insert a small needle into a large vein (near your shoulder). He/she will then use the needle to thread the pacemaker implant wires into your veins towards your heart. Once the pacemaker implant wires have been properly inserted, a technician will take an x-ray of the wires, as they pass through your vein, and enter your heart, to make sure they are correctly placed.

Once everything is in place, your cardiologist will make a small incision in your abdomen or chest. He/she will then insert the pacemaker implant (a small metal box) through the incision, directly under your skin. Next, your cardiologist will connect the pacemaker implant wires that lead to your heart. The small metal box contains the pacemaker’s generator and battery. Once the pacemaker implant is inside of your body, your cardiologist will test it to make sure it is functioning properly. Lastly, he/she will suture your incision. It typically takes approximately 2 to 3 hours to complete pacemaker implant surgery.

Recovery

Once the surgery is over, you will probably be required to stay overnight at the hospital so that a medical team can monitor you. During your time in the hospital, your cardiologist, along with the cardiac nurses, will check your heartbeat to make sure that the pacemaker implant is working, and your heart is beating at a normal rate. Make arrangements in advance (i.e. take time off from work, arrange a babysitter, and ask a friend or family member to take you and pick you up from the hospital). You probably will not want to drive yourself to and from the hospital, following pacemaker implant surgery.

You should be released from the hospital the next day, as long as everything is working as it should be. It is important to note that for the first couple of weeks, following the surgery, you may experience tenderness, pain, and inflammation in the pacemaker implant location. Do not fret – this is normal. The pain and discomfort should be mild. In fact, most over-the counter medications (i.e. Tylenol) should ease it.

If you experience worsening, and/or unrelenting pain, contact your cardiologist immediately. Call your doctor’s office, before taking any over-the-counter medications for your pain and discomfort. Moreover, your cardiologist may advise against lifting or straining. You should refrain from vigorous activities and manual labor tasks for at least a month, following your surgery. Strenuous exercises and activities can cause your pacemaker implant to malfunction. You should be able to resume your basic daily functions, a few days after the surgery.

Warnings

It is important to note that you should avoid close, and/or prolonged contact with electrical devices that have strong magnetic fields (i.e. cell phones, MP3 players, metal detectors, electrical generators, household appliances like microwave ovens, and high tension wires) because they can interfere with your pacemaker’s electrical impulses, and prevent pacemaker from working properly.

References:

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Pacemaker: What to expect. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pacemaker/basics/what-you-can-expect/PRC-20014279

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2014). What to expect after pacemaker surgery. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pace/after.html

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