A pacemaker (or artificial pacemaker, so as not to be confused with the heart's natural pacemaker) is a medical device that uses electrical impulses, delivered by electrodes contacting the heart muscles, to regulate the beating of the heart. The primary purpose of a pacemaker is to maintain an adequate heart rate, either because of the heart's native pacemaker is not fast enough, or there is a block in the heart's electrical conduction system. Modern pacemakers are externally programmable and allow the cardiologist to select the optimum pacing modes for individual patients. Some combine a pacemaker and defibrillator in a single implantable device. Others have multiple electrodes stimulating differing positions within the heart to improve synchronisation of the lower chambers of the heart.
Methods of Pacing
• Percussive Pacing
Percussive pacing, also known as transthoracic mechanical pacing, is the use of the closed fist, usually on the left lower edge of the sternum over the right ventricle in the vena cava, striking from a distance of 20 – 30 cm to induce a ventricular beat (the British Journal of Anesthesia suggests this must be done to raise the ventricular pressure to 10 - 15mmHg to induce electrical activity). This is an old procedure used only as a life saving means until an electrical pacemaker is brought to the patient.
• Transcutaneous Pacing
Transcutaneous pacing (TCP), also called external pacing, is recommended for the initial stabilization of hemodynamically significant bradycardias of all types. The procedure is performed by placing two pacing pads on the patient's chest, either in the anterior/lateral position or the anterior/posterior position. The rescuer selects the pacing rate, and gradually increases the pacing current (measured in mA) until electrical capture (characterized by a wide QRS complex with a tall, broad T wave on the ECG) is achieved, with a corresponding pulse. Pacing artifact on the ECG and severe muscle twitching may make this determination difficult. External pacing should not be relied upon for an extended period of time. It is an emergency procedure that acts as a bridge until transvenous pacing or other therapies can be applied.
• Epicardial Pacing (temporary)
ECG rhythm strip of a threshold determination in a patient with a temporary (epicardial) ventricular pacemaker. The epicardial pacemaker leads were placed after the patient collapsed during aortic valve surgery. In the first half of the tracing, pacemaker stimuli at 60 beats per minute result in a wide QRS complex with a right bundle branch block pattern. Progressively weaker pacing stimuli are administered, which results in asystole in the second half of the tracing. At the end of the tracing, distortion results from muscle contractions due to a (short) hypoxic seizure. Because decreased pacemaker stimuli do not result in a ventricular escape rhythm, the patient can be said to be pacemaker-dependent and needs a definitive pacemaker.
Temporary epicardial pacing is used during open heart surgery should the surgical procedure create atrio ventricular block. The electrodes are placed in contact with the outer wall of the ventricle (epicardium) to maintain satisfactory cardiac output until a temporary transvenous electrode has been inserted.
• Transvenous Pacing (Temporary)
Transvenous pacing, when used for temporary pacing, is an alternative to transcutaneous pacing. A pacemaker wire is placed into a vein, under sterile conditions, and then passed into either the right atrium or right ventricle. The pacing wire is then connected to an external pacemaker outside the body. Transvenous pacing is often used as a bridge to permanent pacemaker placement. It can be kept in place until a permanent pacemaker is implanted or until there is no longer a need for a pacemaker and then it is removed.
• Permanent pacing
Right atrial and right ventricular leads as visualized under x-ray during a pacemaker implant procedure. The atrial lead is the curved one making a U shape in the upper left part of the figure.
Permanent pacing with an implantable pacemaker involves transvenous placement of one or more pacing electrodes within a chamber, or chambers, of the heart. The procedure is performed by incision of a suitable vein into which the electrode lead is inserted and passed along the vein, through the valve of the heart, until positioned in the chamber. The procedure is facilitated by fluoroscopy which enables the physician or cardiologist to view the passage of the electrode lead. After satisfactory lodgement of the electrode is confirmed, the opposite end of the electrode lead is connected to the pacemaker generator.
• There are three basic types of permanent pacemakers, classified according to the number of chambers involved and their basic operating mechanism:
- Single-chamber pacemaker. In this type, only one pacing lead is placed into a chamber of the heart, either the atrium or the ventricle.
- Dual-chamber pacemaker. Here, wires are placed in two chambers of the heart. One lead paces the atrium and one paces the ventricle. This type more closely resembles the natural pacing of the heart by assisting the heart in coordinating the function between the atria and ventricles.
- Rate-responsive pacemaker. This pacemaker has sensors that detect changes in the patient's physical activity and automatically adjust the pacing rate to fulfill the body's metabolic needs.
The pacemaker generator is a hermetically sealed device containing a power source, usually a lithium battery, a sensing amplifier which processes the electrical manifestation of naturally occurring heart beats as sensed by the heart electrodes, the computer logic for the pacemaker and the output circuitry which delivers the pacing impulse to the electrodes.
Most commonly, the generator is placed below the subcutaneous fat of the chest wall, above the muscles and bones of the chest. However, the placement may vary on a case by case basis.
The outer casing of pacemakers is so designed that it will rarely be rejected by the body's immune system. It is usually made of titanium, which is inert in the body.