Pacemakers and Internal Defibrillators – What Is The Difference?

When it comes to heart rhythm problems, there are two main issues a person can have. The first problem is that a person’s heart could beat too slowly. This problem is treated by a pacemaker device. The second possible problem is that a person’s heart could have a tendency to beat too quickly. This issue is regularly corrected by an implantable defibrillator. Many people falsely feel that an implanted defibrillator is the same thing as a pacemaker. While they are both designed to correct the rhythm of the heart, the two devices fix different problems.

An internal defibrillator is an internal version of the large paddle things shown in use by TV shows. An internal defibrillator is programmed to correct a heart beat that is beating too quickly. When a heart beats too quickly, it does not give the blood enough time to move out of the heart and into the body. A shock is necessary to make the heart beat at the correct tempo. The leads that are used as one of three parts to the defibrillator monitor the heart’s rhythm. When they detect a problem, the batteries issue a shock that travels through the leads to the heart to return the heart to its normal rhythm. An internal defibrillator is programmed to correct the rhythm of the heart if the heart is beating too quickly, with no detectable rhythm, or if it has stopped completely.

A pacemaker, while a useful tool, is programmed to correct the heart’s rhythm only if the heart is beating too slowly. It is not designed to correct any problems involving too quick of a heartbeat or no rhythm at all. In fact, many types of pacemakers turn themselves completely off whenever the heart reaches a specific beats per minute threshold. It turns itself back on again when the beats per minute drop below the threshold. The same leads that are involved in monitoring the heart’s rhythm in the internal defibrillator also monitor the heart’s rhythm in a pacemaker. These same leads tell the battery pack when to issue a shock and then convey the shock to the heart.

Unfortunately, many leads have had problems in the recent past. Medtronic, Inc., one of the big three medical device makers, recalled their Sprint Fidelis leads in October. These leads were breaking and issuing shocks when none was necessary. This occurrence is extremely painful.