Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Pacemaker implanted in the chest.

Pacemaker implanted in the chest.
beginning of content

Pacemaker

3-minute read

A pacemaker is a small medical device that’s placed in the chest or abdomen to correct certain heart problems.

Your doctor or specialist may suggest you have a pacemaker inserted if you have an irregular heartbeat, heart muscle problems or some other heart conditions.

What is a pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a device that gives off electrical impulses to the heart. These make the heart beat at a normal rate. It consists of a battery, a tiny computer and a generator in a thin metal box, along with wires that connect the pacemaker to the heart.

There are different types of pacemakers and your doctor will discuss which one is best for you.

Who needs a pacemaker?

Your doctor may suggest you have a temporary pacemaker while your heart recovers from a heart attack, heart surgery or drug overdose.

A permanent artificial pacemaker may be recommended if you have:

  • arrhythmias including heart block (when the electrical signals in the heart are delayed)
  • heart disease
  • other conditions that affect the heart rate

People who have arrhythmias find their heart beats slower or faster than normal or has an irregular rhythm. Their heart may then not be able to pump enough blood to the body. This can make them feel tired, short of breath, dizzy or faint. It can be dangerous.

There are other treatments for arrhythmia. Your doctor will discuss with you whether a pacemaker is the best treatment for you and your problem.

Read more about heart procedures and devices.

How is a pacemaker inserted?

A pacemaker is inserted in minor surgery under an anaesthetic.

During surgery, the doctor or cardiologist will insert a wire into a large vein under the collarbone and thread it through to the heart. The doctor will check it is in the right place with an x-ray.

The small box containing the battery and pulse generator is inserted in a little cut just under the skin of the chest or abdomen. It is attached to the wire from the heart. Sometimes a second wire is needed.

Read about pacemaker surgery.

What are the risks?

Pacemaker surgery is usually safe and the body won’t reject a pacemaker. However, some people may have:

  • swelling, bruising or bleeding
  • infection
  • blood vessel or nerve damage
  • collapsed lung
  • a reaction to medicine during surgery

Talk to your doctor about the risks of surgery.

Living with a pacemaker

The pacemaker's battery should last between 5 to 15 years, depending on how much the heart relies on it. Regular checks of the battery are needed so it can be replaced if necessary.

Most people with pacemakers can play sport, swim, have sex and keep up other physical activities. They should avoid contact sport though such as football. They need regular check-ups by the specialist to make sure the pacemaker is working properly.

.

Occasionally electrical devices with a strong magnetic field, including mobile phones, microwave ovens and high tension wires, can interfere with a pacemaker. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any problems.

Your doctor will give you a medical ID bracelet or a card to keep in your wallet to let people know you have a pacemaker. You’ll also get instructions about being careful with some electrical equipment and medical procedures.

Read more about pacemakers and your lifestyle.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Implantable cardiac devices - Better Health Channel

A person with an artificial cardiac pacemaker can live a normal life and can still perform moderate to strenuous activities.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Heart procedures and devices | The Heart Foundation

If you have a heart condition, your doctor may recommend treatment or procedures. Find out what to expect from heart procedures and devices.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Pacemaker - St Vincent's Heart Health

Information about pacemakers, including how to prepare and what happens during and after the procedure.

Read more on St Vincent's Hospital Heart Health website

Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms)

Arrhythmia is when you have an abnormal heart rhythm and heart palpitations are an awareness of your heartbeat.

Read more on WA Health website

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome - Better Health Channel

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is characterised by attacks of rapid heart rate or tachycardia.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Muscular dystrophy - myDr.com.au

Muscular dystrophy describes a group of inherited diseases in which the muscles that control movement become progressively weaker and waste away, causing symptoms such as difficulty walking.

Read more on myDr website

Heart conditions - endocarditis - Better Health Channel

Endocarditis is an infection of the heart valves or the inner lining of the heart.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo