Living with a pacemaker.

What is a pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a small electrical device. It sends electrical pulses to your heart to keep it beating regularly and at the right speed. Smaller than the average matchbox, a pacemaker weighs just 20-50g.

With wires that attach to your heart, it emits electrical impulses that are programmed in response to your body’s needs. Some send out electrical impulses all the time, while others only activate when needed.

How common are pacemakers?

In the UK, thousands of pacemakers fitted each year and pacemaker implantation is one of the most common types of heart surgery. Having a pacemaker can vastly improve your quality of life and can be life-saving.

When do you need a pacemaker?

Symptoms that indicate that a pacemaker might be needed include:

  • An abnormally slow heartbeat
  • An abnormally fast heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeats (tachycardia)
  • Cardiac arrest.

How is a pacemaker fitted?

Getting a pacemaker implanted is a relatively straightforward process. Most pacemakers are fitted just under the collar bone and will have one or more leads which are passed into the heart via a vein. The type of pacemaker fitted will depend on your specific condition.

The procedure tends to be done under local anaesthetic, which means you’ll be awake during the surgery. You may be prescribed a very mild sedative so that you feel relaxed. Surgery takes about an hour, and most people can leave the hospital the next day.

A pacemaker might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but most people soon get used to it.

It is recommended that strenuous activities are avoided for around four to six weeks after having a pacemaker fitted. After this, you should be able to return to normal physical activities including exercise and sport.

You will need to attend regular check-ups to make sure your pacemaker is working correctly.

With the right, ongoing medical care people with pacemakers can have a good quality of life.