Everyone has likely experienced an irregular heartbeat at some point. Your heart momentarily races or seems to beat too slowly. These brief anomalies are usually nothing to worry about. But sometimes heart irregularities can happen on a more frequent basis. When this is the case, it’s time to get help.
Some estimates put the number of people in the U.S. suffering from an arrhythmia at close to four million. Arrhythmia simply means any disorder related to your heart rate or rhythm. It means that your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or with an irregular pattern because of problems with the electrical system of your heart. If your arrhythmia is serious, you may need one of two devices implanted under your skin: a cardiac pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This could help prevent a heart attack and could be considered essential for cardiac care.
A pacemaker is a tiny device that monitors the electrical impulses in the heart. When a heart beats irregularly, it delivers electrical pulses to try to “reset” the heart into a more normal rhythm. An ICD is similar in that it also monitors heart rhythms. If it senses a dangerous rhythm, it delivers shocks. It takes over the treatment that used to be available only in the emergency room of a hospital.
Medical research has found that some devices can interfere with the production of electrical impulses by a pacemaker. Airport security devices may deactivate some pacemakers, for example. It’s important to get a doctor’s advice about a pacemaker’s limitations, and potential complications. There have been problems with the leads in pacemakers becoming dislodged. The devices have also caused inappropriate shocks and/or infections.
On a more positive note, pacemakers used to need batteries replaced frequently, but now they last up to 15 years on one battery, which is a big improvement. Some have also now been designed to save power by switching off when the heartbeat is normal, extending battery life even more.
IMPORTANT: Have a Pacemaker and an “iPod?” Read on
On the plus side for newer-generation ICDs is the fact that they are now designed as a combination of an ICD and a pacemaker. Also — many ICDs can record the heart’s electrical patterns when there is an abnormal heartbeat. This can help a doctor plan treatment.
The safety and monitoring of both pacemakers and ICDs has improved over the past number of years. Data can now be automatically transmitted to a cardiologist online. This strategy has lowered the number of hospital visits and improved the speed at which a doctor can make an arrhythmia diagnosis.
For anyone suffering from an irregular heartbeat, pacemakers and ICDs may still be the best option for protection.