Pacemaker (cont.)

Who needs a pacemaker?

Doctors recommend pacemakers for many reasons. The most common reasons are bradycardia and heart block.

Bradycardia is a heartbeat that is slower than normal. Heart block is a disorder that occurs if 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 disrupt the heart's electrical activity. Some nerve and muscle disorders also can cause heart block, including muscular dystrophy.

Your doctor also may recommend a pacemaker if:

  • Aging or heart disease damages your sinus node's ability to set the correct pace for your heartbeat. Such damage can cause slower than normal heartbeats or long pauses between heartbeats. The damage also can cause your heart to switch between slow and fast rhythms. This condition is called sick sinus syndrome.
  • You've had a medical procedure to treat an arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. A pacemaker can help regulate your heartbeat after the procedure.
  • You need to take certain heart medicines, such as beta blockers. These medicines can slow your heartbeat too much.
  • You faint or have other symptoms of a slow heartbeat. For example, this may happen if the main artery in your neck that supplies your brain with blood is sensitive to pressure. Just quickly turning your neck can cause your heart to beat slower than normal. As a result, your brain might not get enough blood flow, causing you to feel faint or collapse.
  • You have heart muscle problems that cause electrical signals to travel too slowly through your heart muscle. Your pacemaker may provide cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) for this problem. CRT devices coordinate electrical signaling between the heart's lower chambers.
  • You have long QT syndrome, which puts you at risk for dangerous arrhythmias.

Doctors also may recommend pacemakers for people who have certain types of congenital heart disease or for people who have had heart transplants. Children, teens, and adults can use pacemakers.

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2014

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