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Pacemaker Failure

Although pacemakers are reliable life-saving devices, problems do rarely occur. It is important to understand why you have a pacemaker. This can also help you understand why it might "fail." These are some reasons you may have a pacemaker:

  • To help control your heart rate if it is too slow, too fast, or irregular

  • Heart block

  • Damage to the part of the heart controlling the heart rhythm due to a heart attack

  • Fainting because of your heart's irregular rhythm

  • A fast, irregular heart rate uncontrolled by medication

Signs and symptoms of pacemaker failure or malfunction include:

  • Dizziness, lightheaded

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Palpitations

  • Hard time breathing

  • Slow or fast heart rate, or a combination of both

A complete failure of a modern pacemaker is very uncommon. Most of the time, "malfunction" of a pacemaker means it is working normally, but may need to be reprogrammed. Other times, there might be a problem with the battery, a lead, or an electrode.

Causes for a pacemaker failure include:

  • Battery depletion

  • Loose or broken wire between the pacemaker and the heart

  • Electromagnetic interference from other devices

  • Electronic circuit failure

  • Electrolyte abnormality (such as high potassium in the blood)

  • Electromagnetic interference from certain devices such as power generators, arc welders, and powerful magnets (found  in medical devices, heavy equipment, and motors)

  • A pacemaker lead gets pulled out of position

  • A change in your condition that needs pacemaker reprogramming

NOTE: Common household devices, such as microwave ovens, TV remotes, heating pads, and electric blankets, don't interfere with pacemakers. Cell phones in the U.S. do not interfere with pacemakers.

Home care

The following are general care guidelines:

  1. Don't push, pull, or twist the pulse generator unit placed under your skin.

  2. Carry a wallet I.D. card with the name of your device and its maker, and the name of your cardiologist. This will help emergency personnel test your pacemaker in the event of a malfunction.

  3. Medical and dental equipment can affect pacemakers. Tell the doctor or dentist that you have one before any procedures are done. Routine X-rays will not affect a pacemaker.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your doctor or as advised by our staff.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Chest pain

  • Rapid heart rate (over 120 beats per minute at rest)

  • Frequent or persistent palpitations (the sense that your heart is fluttering or beating fast or hard or irregularly)

  • Slower than usual heart rate compared to your normal

  • Chest pain with weakness, dizziness, fainting, heavy sweating, nausea, or vomiting

  • Extreme drowsiness, confusion

  • Weakness of an arm or leg or one side of the face

  • Difficulty with speech or vision

When to seek medical care

Get prompt medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • Weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness

  • Occasional palpitations

  • Pain, redness, swelling, or drainage from pacemaker implant site

 

 
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