A patient who has a pacemaker implanted to regulate a slow heart beat may have a better chance of a normal life expectancy than previously believed. A new study by Dr. Erik O. Udo from the Netherlands showed that a pacemaker can restore life expectancy to near normal levels for patients who need the pacemaker because their heart rhythm is slow.
A pacemaker is a small device that can be implanted in the abdomen or chest to help the heart beat in a regular rhythm or at the correct speed. A pacemaker includes a battery, a very small computerized generator, and wires called electrodes that connect the pacemaker to the heart.
When the heart is healthy it receives electric signals that travel from the brain through the nerves. These signals control how the muscles of the heart expand and contract to allow the heart to fill with blood. The blood is then forced out into the arteries throughout the body.
Pacemakers are used to treat arrhythmias or problems with the heartbeat. A heartbeat that is too slow is called bradycardia. If your heartbeat is irregular, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood out to your body. This can cause tiredness, shortness of breath, fainting, damage to the body’s organs and even death.
A pacemaker helps the heart beat at a normal rhythm by sending electric pulses through the wires into the tissue of the heart. These pulses can cause the heart to beat faster or slower and help ensure that the muscles are contracting fully to send blood flowing out to the body.
Udo’s research team conducted a study known as FollowPace which included patients in 23 Dutch hospitals who received pacemakers to regulate a slow heart rhythm. The researchers tracked 1,517 patients who received their first pacemaker between 2003 and 2007. Udo reported the results of the study at the ESC Congress 2013.
Patients in the study were found to have a 93 percent survival rate after one year and a 69 percent survival rate after five years. Patients who did not have any cardiovascular disease at the time they received their pacemaker had a survival rate which was approximately the same as the general Dutch population of the same age and sex.
Udo said, “Our results suggest that the prognosis of today's pacemaker patient is primarily determined by whether or not they also have cardiovascular disease, and not by the rhythm disorder itself.”
Udo explained that patients who need a pacemaker for a slow heart rhythm, but who also have heart failure or coronary artery disease at the same time, have the highest risk of death. But patients without heart disease can be restored to a normal life expectancy through the use of a pacemaker.
Udo said that the study showed that the other heart disease issues are the cause of shortened life expectancy, not the slow heart rhythm.
Udo’s study may become the new benchmark that doctors can use to gauge life expectancy for patients who receive a pacemaker to correct a slow heart rhythm.
Udo also recommended that doctors should pay more attention to the detection and treatment of other cardiovascular problems following the implantation of a pacemaker for slow heart rhythm in order to achieve the best results for their patients.
If you have concerns about your heart rhythm, talk to your health care provider.
Science Daily. Pacemaker for Slow Heart Rhythm Restores Life Expectancy, Study Suggests. Web. September 10, 2013.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is a Pacemaker?. Web. September 10, 2013.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is the Heart?. Web. September 10, 2013.
Reviewed September 11, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith