Does this Medical Device Really Help?

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Pacemakers are no longer large or cumbersome.An irregular heartbeat is more serious than many people think. It can cause the heart to beat too fast or slow, depending on the circumstances, and this can potentially create a scenario in which a life-threatening heart attack occurs.

Our hearts come with their own natural pacemakers, of course, which help regulate beating patterns. But, when your own pacemaker doesn’t respond fast enough, or there’s a block in your heart’s internal electrical system, it could be time for an artificial pacemaker.

The pacemaker has a long and interesting history of development. Arne Larsson received the world’s first artificial pacemaker in 1958. Over the course of his lifetime, Larsson’s pacemaker was updated and replaced 25 times as technology became more sophisticated. Larsson died in 2001 at the age of 86—older than both the inventor of his first pacemaker and the surgeon who implanted it next to his heart.

A recent study performed at Duke University in North Carolina examined how well artificial pacemakers are performing by tallying health-care costs before and after implantation.

The Duke research team collected data from its own Health and Retirement Study, and combined it with Medicare claims. All of the study’s participants were 68 years or older, and diagnosed with either electrical conduction disorders or cardiac dysrhythmias in the previous three years. Specifically, the researchers looked at emergency room visits, inpatient admissions, length of stay, and Medicare payments after a pacemaker was implanted. They found that most pacemaker recipients reduced their number of emergency room visits and hospital admissions post-pacemaker implantation.

Pacemakers still aren’t perfect, but they’ve come a long way. Certainly, the decision to have one is a lot easier to make now. Pacemakers are programmable and tiny, and can now be implanted under local anesthetic. And, if this small device can keep you out of the emergency room, it’s worth the discomfort of having one implanted as part of an overall healthy heart regimen.

Sources for Today’s Articles:
Does this Medical Device Really Help?
Sloan, F.A., et al., “Emergency Room and Inpatient Use After Cardiac Pacemaker Implantation,” Am J Cardiol. December 1, 2012.