Five Things You Need To Know About Pacemakers

A couple of years ago, my grandmother went through several episodes of falling down and losing consciousness. It was a scary time, and her physician recommended a pacemaker, which was ultimately a great choice for her that helped prevent these episodes from reoccurring. The day of her surgery, a nurse handed my mom a packet with a pacemaker wallet card and the serial number for my grandmother’s pacemaker, and said, “You’re also going to want to order her a pacemaker medical ID bracelet.” Luckily for my mom, she knew just who to call.

I was able to help my grandma pick out a medical ID and advise her on what to have us engrave. And as I did so, I realized that although we do this for our customers daily, I did not personally know all that much about pacemakers and how they work, what care to take, what to watch for, or what heart conditions they help treat. So for all of you who, like me, may not know all there is to know about pacemakers, here’s a handy list of Five Facts About Pacemakers.

  1. Pacemakers are small devices with long-lasting batteries (5-10 years) that help the heart maintain a more consistent rhythm using electrical impulses. While permanent pacemakers are implanted surgically, some pacemakers are designed for temporary use and are therefore operated externally
  2. Pacemakers are used to help in treatment of a variety of heart conditions including (but not limited to) the following: fainting spells, congestive heart failure, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, bradyarrhythmia, bradycardia, heart block, arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, long QT syndrome, and some forms of congenital heart disease. They are also sometimes used after a heart transplant.
  3. Pacemakers can be disrupted by external forces such as power-generating or arc welding equipment, extremely strong magnets, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, and a variety of other medical tests and equipment. Some people with pacemakers can undergo MRIs and other potentially disruptive tests, but there are a number of variables involved in those decisions.
  4. Pacemaker use is one of the most common reasons people wear medical ID jewelry. If you are unable to advocate for yourself, EMTs, other first responders, and emergency medical personnel need to know about your heart conditions(s) and/or pacemaker status so they can make safe choices for your treatment. Wallet cards are an excellent backup option (download one free here!). However, in an emergency situation, most EMTs report that unless someone is wearing a heart condition and/or pacemaker medical ID bracelet indicating that there is pertinent medical information in someone’s wallet or purse, those items aren’t typically checked until after a patient arrives at the hospital. Keeping your most pertinent information right at hand (or wrist, as the case may be), is truly essential.
  5. Pacemakers need to be checked regularly. If you have a pacemaker, be sure to speak with your doctor, nurse, or nurse educator to determine how often you need to visit your cardiologist for re-checks.

Fun Fact: While Wilson Greatbatch is often credited with inventing the artificial pacemaker in the 1960s, and his work was transformative in the history of pacemakers, the term, “artificial pacemaker” was actually coined by Albert Hyman, American physiologist, who built a rudimentary pacemaker, complete with hand-crank motor, all the way back in 1932. Scientists both before and after Hyman and Greatbatch have contributed to this miraculous device that has saved and improved the lives of millions.

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