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Pacemaker implanted in the chest.

Pacemaker implanted in the chest.
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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 block or some other heart conditions.

What is a pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a device that gives off electrical impulses to your heart. These make your 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 your 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
  • heart disease
  • other conditions that affect your 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 your body. This can make you feel tired, shortness 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?

To have a pacemaker inserted, you will have minor surgery under an anaesthetic.

During surgery, your doctor or cardiologist will insert a wire into a large vein under your collarbone and thread it through to your 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 your chest or abdomen. It is attached to the wire from your heart. Sometimes a second wire is needed.

Read about pacemaker surgery.

What are the risks?

Pacemaker surgery is usually safe and your 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

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. You’ll need regular check-ups by your 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: March 2018

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