Help! I Might Need a Pacemaker! Is a Heart Attack Next?

Sometimes people learn they might need a pacemaker and immediately assume that they are at very high risk for a heart attack. In fact, they may even think that they’re getting the pacemaker to protect them from the heart attack they sense is coming.

The purpose of a pacemaker is to regulate the electrical system of the heart to stabilize the heart rhythm. Pacemakers are typically prescribed to people who have arrhythmias or irregular cardiac rhythms.

By contrast, heart attacks happen when the vessels surrounding the outside of the heart are clogged or blocked. This deprives the heart muscle of oxygen from the bloodstream. Without oxygen, the muscle starts to die. A heart attack is considered mild if only a small amount of muscle is deprived of oxygen for a very short period of time; the more muscle that is killed by oxygen deprivation, the more severe the heart attack. In fact, some heart attacks are fatal.

A lot of people hear the word pacemaker and assume that they are at high risk for a heart attack. That is not necessarily the case at all. The two conditions, that is, arrhythmia and heart attack, are distinct and different.

A healthy heart should beat about once a second in a very carefully choreographed and complicated sequence of events involving upper and lower chambers and even split-second periods of rest within a single heartbeat. If those beats are out of sequence or too slow or too fast, the doctor diagnoses an arrhythmia.

Arrhythmias are tricky things since they are often intermittent, which is a term doctors like to throw around but which really means that the arrhythmia comes and goes on its own without any discernible reasons. Many people who need pacemakers have intermittent arrhythmias, meaning that their heart rhythm is out of whack some of the time, but not consistently.

That is why pacemakers operate in standby mode a lot of the time. In the medical device world, the function is called inhibition, but it is the same thing as standby. The pacemaker watches the heart and paces only if the heart needs pacing. As long as the heart is beating normally, the pacemaker simply observes and does nothing.

Most people who are told they need a pacemaker need the device for quality of life more than anything else. While some arrhythmias can be serious and even life threatening, many are somewhat harmless but they can cause symptoms. The most typical symptoms of arrhythmia are fatigue, lethargy, feeling woozy, lightheadedness, and fainting or feeling as if you might faint.

For many people, a pacemaker improves their feelings of well-being, gives them more energy, and gets rid of unpleasant symptoms.

If you need a pacemaker, it does not mean that you are necessarily at risk for other heart disease, a heart attack, or heart failure. On the other hand, this is no free pass.

If you need a pacemaker, that is a problem involving an arrhythmia. You should still continue to get checked for other signs of heart disease. It is perfectly possible to have more than one heart condition.

Getting a pacemaker is not a complicated procedure. It is sometimes done on an outpatient basis, but most of the time, a short stay in the hospital is in order. The operation itself typically takes about an hour (for a regular pacemaker with no particular complications) and recovery is about four to six weeks. However, you should talk to your doctor, since every person is unique which means that every medical case is unique, too.

Millions of people all over the world have pacemakers. They are generally credited with improving the lifestyle and quality of life of the people who have them. Pacemakers have been around for over half a century, working to help regulate irregular heart rhythms.