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Understanding the Heart's Electrical System
Your heart has its own internal electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat. With each heartbeat, an electrical signal spreads from the top of your heart to the bottom. As the signal travels, it causes the heart to contract and pump blood.
Each electrical signal normally begins in a group of cells called the sinus node or sinoatrial (SA) node. As the signal spreads from the top of the heart to the bottom, it coordinates the timing of heart cell activity.
First, the heart's two upper chambers, the atria (AY-tree-uh), contract. This contraction pumps blood into the heart's two lower chambers, the ventricles (VEN-trih-kuls). The ventricles then contract and pump blood to the rest of the body. The combined contraction of the atria and ventricles is a heartbeat.
Who Needs a Pacemaker?
Doctors recommend pacemakers for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are bradycardia and heart block.
Bradycardia is a slower than normal heartbeat. Heart block is a problem with the heart's electrical system. The disorder occurs when an electrical signal is slowed or disrupted as it moves through the heart.
Heart block can happen as a result of aging, damage to the heart from a heart attack, or other conditions that interfere with the heart's electrical activity. Certain nerve and muscle disorders also can cause heart block, including muscular dystrophy.
Your doctor also may recommend a pacemaker if:
Children, adolescents, and people who have certain types of congenital heart disease may get pacemakers. Pacemakers also are sometimes implanted after heart transplants.
Before recommending a pacemaker, your doctor will consider any arrhythmia symptoms you have, such as dizziness, unexplained fainting, or shortness of breath. He or she also will consider whether you have a history of heart disease, what medicines you're currently taking, and the results of heart tests.
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