Defibrillator vs Pacemaker – Overview
You may have heard about pacemakers and defibrillators that doctors often recommend to treat patients with heart problems.
These are used when the patient has a heart problem called arrhythmia. This cardiac condition causes your heart to beat slower or faster or beat with an irregular rhythm, depending on the kind of arrhythmia the patient has.
Though both these devices are designed to keep your heart beating regularly, they are vastly different compared to one another.
Let’s look at the differences between a defibrillator and a pacemaker.
What is a Defibrillator?
A defibrillator is technically labeled “implantable cardioverter defibrillator” (ICD). This is a small device that is placed under your skin.
It consists of a computer that keeps track of your heart rate and rhythm. If the ICD detects an abnormal rhythm (too slow, fast, or irregular beating), it sends a shock to the heart to get it back into a normal rhythm.
Some defibrillators also act like pacemakers as they send a signal any time your heart begins to beat too slowly.
Why do you need a Defibrillator?
You may need to implant a defibrillator if the ventricles (the heart’s two lower chambers) are pumping the blood abnormally. You may also need to implant a defibrillator if you have suffered a cardiac arrest or heart attack, which causes your heart to stop beating altogether.
A defibrillator can save your life if your abnormal heart rhythm becomes too dangerous.
How is the Defibrillator Implanted?
The surgeon will advise you to take antibiotics before the implant surgery.
You will also be asked to stop taking blood-thinning medications and drinking or eating at least 8 hours before the surgery. You may be administered anesthesia so you do not feel any discomfort or pain.
The surgeon usually places the wires from the defibrillator device into a vein and connects them to your heart.
A small incision is made in the chest, and the device is implanted here. The surgeon will test the defibrillator to ensure it works well before concluding the surgery by suturing the incision.
What is a Pacemaker?
As the name suggests, a pacemaker is a small device that sends out electrical pulses to keep your heartbeat at a regular, steady rate and rhythm. This device is usually placed under the skin in the upper chest, quite close to the heart.
Pacemakers have small computers that can track your heartbeats and detect abnormalities in their rate and rhythm.
Why do you need a Pacemaker?
Several conditions may require you to wear a pacemaker, such as:
- Abnormally slow or uneven heartbeat, which has not been treated with other techniques.
- An ablation procedure that results in burning away tiny portions of your heart that cause abnormal electrical impulses.
- If you take certain medications, such as beta-blockers and other heart medications, that are meant to slow down the heartbeat.
How is Pacemaker Implanted?
A pacemaker is implanted with a minor surgical procedure. The surgeon usually gives you a dose of antibiotics to prevent the risk of infection from the implanted device.
You will also be asked to quit taking medications, such as blood thinners, and eat any food at least 8 hours before the surgery starts.
Then, the surgeon will administer local or general anesthesia so you do not feel discomfort or pain while the implant surgery is underway.
The surgeon will make a small incision in the upper chest, close to the heart. The wires of the pacemakers, called ‘leads’, are threaded through a blood vessel to your heart.
Then, the pacemaker itself is implanted just under the collarbone. It consists of a small computer and a battery.
Usually, the surgeon tries to implant a pacemaker on the side you don’t use most often. For instance, if you are right-handed, the pacemaker is implanted on the left side.
The leads from the pacemaker connect to your heart. The charges allow the electrical signals to travel back and forth between the heart and the pacemaker.
These signals let the computer in the pacemaker know your heart rate. If the computer detects irregularity or slowed or fast heartbeat, then it sends an alert to the heart to resume beating at an average pace.
The defibrillator and pacemaker ensure that your heart beats at a normal, regular rhythm. These devices can help you to resume most of your normal daily activities, including exercising.
Follow the surgeon and doctor’s instructions before and after the implant surgery and attend all follow-up appointments to ensure a successful pacemaker or defibrillator implant.