Can You Have a Heart Attack with a Pacemaker?
Yes, you can have a heart attack even with a pacemaker or defibrillator installed/implanted. However, if you suffer from cardiac arrest, then the pacemaker or defibrillator will usually save your life.
Generally, a pacemaker or an implanted cardioverter device (ICD) lasts between 5 and 7 years or longer depending on the type of device and its usage. In the majority of cases, patients lead a normal life with an ICD or pacemaker.
The advances in technology have reduced the chances of machines, such as microwaves, interfering with the functions of a pacemaker or ICD.
Difference Between Pacemaker and Defibrillator
Many people tend to confuse pacemakers with defibrillators, and vice versa. There is a need for patient education where they can know the difference between the two.
If you two get confused between the two, then this article will be helpful.
What is a Defibrillator?
A defibrillator is a type of ICD that uses electric shocks to help restore an average heart rate. They can also be used to restore the heart rate if the patient goes into cardiac arrest.
Defibrillators come in several types, which mainly include:
Wearable defibrillators – This type of defibrillator is worn on the body as a vest, under your clothes. It has sensors that remain in contact with the skin to monitor your heart rate and rhythm.
Implantable defibrillators – This type of defibrillator is surgically implanted inside your body, usually near the heart on the breast bone or ribs, with leads going into the blood vessels.
The sensor can detect an abnormal heart rate and quickly send an electric pulse to adjust the rhythm back to normal.
Automated external defibrillators – These defibrillators are used in medical emergencies if someone is experiencing a cardiac arrest.
What is a Pacemaker?
A pacemaker is a medical device that works similarly to defibrillators. It is designed to treat patients suffering from arrhythmia. This is a cardiac condition where the heart beats at an irregular rate, or frequent pauses between beats, among others.
A pacemaker helps the four chambers of your heart to beat in a steady, stable rhythm so that the heart can pump blood effectively throughout your body.
Arrhythmia, which requires a pacemaker, may be caused by several different reasons, such as:
- Problems with the heart’s electrical signaling pathways
- Heart attack
- Structural problems in the heart
- Specific types of muscular dystrophy
A pacemaker is implanted by using an x-ray or similar imaging technology to thread the leads of the device through your blood vessels so they can reach the chambers of the heart.
The cardiac surgeon will choose the neck, chest or thigh to do this.
Once the leads are in place, the surgeon will make a small incision in your abdomen or chest. The pacemaker generator will be carefully placed into position, just underneath your skin.
Once the other leads are connected to the generator, the surgeon will first test to make sure the pacemaker is working well before closing the small incision with sutures.
This surgical procedure usually takes a few hours and can be done under local anesthesia.
How Effective is a Defibrillator?
Having a defibrillator installed can significantly improve your chances of survival for several years. A 2017 study evaluating 12,420 people with an ICD shows that around 4% to 5% survived at least 2 years.
However, researchers noted that significant medical care was required after implantation of the ICD for many participants, especially those who were older.
Another study conducted in 2020 evaluated 1,855 participants who suffered from heart failure and received a placebo or were implanted with an ICD. After around 4 years, it was found that ICD lowered the fatality rate by 23%.
The study concluded that patients who had an ICD showed continued improved long-term survival even after 11 years, as compared to those with a placebo.
The ICD’s most significant benefit was seen over a period of 6 years after the implant surgery. At the end of this period, no additional survival benefits were found.
How Effective is a Pacemaker?
A pacemaker also improves the outlook of the patient significantly. For instance, a 2016 study following 1,035 patients with single- or double-lead pacemakers for 4 years concluded that the mortality rate for those installed with pacemakers was around 4.7% and 3.7%, respectively.
Another study, conducted in 2020 and evaluating 6,362 people with pacemakers, found that certain underlying health conditions can impact the effectiveness of pacemakers and outlook.
These include health conditions such as high blood pressure, higher cholesterol and triglycerides levels, heart valve disease, heart failure, coronary heart disease, previous strokes, etc.
Although you can suffer from a heart attack with a pacemaker or defibrillator, these devices help to restore heart functions even after a cardiac arrest.
These are genuinely life-saving devices, especially for those suffering from health conditions that weaken the functions of the heart.