People of all ages and from all walks of life require pacemakers for several reasons. The most common reason is arrhythmia, meaning the heart has an abnormal rhythm—it can beat too quickly, too slowly, or with an irregular rhythm.
A pacemaker can also help a weak heartbeat that is still “in sync.” Weak heartbeats can result from heart transplants, enlarged heart muscles, congestive heart failure, congenital heart defects, or heart attacks.
Due to increased need and improved technology, an estimated 1.14 million to 1.25 million pacemakers are implanted annually worldwide. By 2023, these numbers are expected to grow to 1.43 million pacemaker implantations across the globe.
How Pacemakers Regulate Heart Rhythm
The heart is essentially an electrical system, with the sinus node in the right upper chamber generating an electrical stimulus. As this electrical impulse moves through the heart, the heart contracts about 60 to 100 times a minute, with each contraction representing one heartbeat.
A pacemaker connects to this electrical system, sending electrical pulses via the device’s pulse generator (pacemaker) to regulate the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. A misconception about pacemakers is that they are implanted into the heart, but that is not the case. Instead, as the NIH National Heart Lung and Blood Institute explains, the device is implanted outside the heart (usually in the chest but sometimes the abdomen) and connected via wires (called leads) through veins to electrodes inside the heart chamber. The electrodes sense your natural heartbeat and deliver the electrical impulses to the heart to regulate the beat.
Besides its primary function of regulating the heartbeat, the pacemaker also helps the doctor monitor the heart by sending data remotely. This pacemaker functionality has seen expanded capabilities in recent years, just as wireless remote monitoring and tracking of everything from your house to your lunch delivery is now possible.
Doctors now access a wealth of patient health data information via these smart devices. For example, the Assurity MRI pacemaker manufactured by Abbott features wireless remote monitoring that provides doctors with both patient diagnostic data and device performance measurements to monitor and track patient heart rhythms and detect the warning signs of any device issues.
Today’s pacemakers are like having a mini-computer in your chest, so device upgrades, reprogramming, software updates, and battery lifespan are all pacemaker “maintenance” aspects a doctor will be monitoring in their ongoing care of the patient.
Follow-up care is critical to ensure the device is doing its job—keeping the patient alive by regulating heart rhythm. After the immediate care post-procedure, patients typically have follow-up visits with their doctor one month after device implantation and every 6 – 12 months, or as needed and determined by the patient’s doctor.
Lifelong Pacemaker Monitoring and Patient Care
Pacemakers are highly impactful devices with low-risk and high-value rates for patients. Arrhythmia and other heart rhythm issues that once diminished the quality and length of life are now treatable and manageable thanks to pacemakers. But implanting the device is only the first step (albeit the biggest) for a pacemaker patient.
Getting a pacemaker is not a “one-and-done” procedure. The average lifespan of a pacemaker is five to seven years- but varies greatly depending on the patient’s specific medical needs. Therefore, a young person who receives a pacemaker could be looking at upwards of 10 device replacements in their lifetime!
With the need for ongoing device monitoring and eventual replacement, pacemaker recipients become patients for life. This reality drives our mission at ForHearts Worldwide—to do all we can ForHearts in need.
Every year, an estimated 2 – 3 million people in developing countries die because they cannot afford pacemaker surgery. Our mission is to secure these desperately needed pacemakers through the generosity of our donors and device manufacturing partners and then coordinate the pacemaker implantation procedures through our in-country Heart Centers. Our volunteer physicians have saved the lives of those in need in over 20 countries in our 38 year history.
However, a patient’s life-saving surgery is not the happy ending of their story. It is just the beginning of their journey with ForHearts Worldwide. Our patients receive ongoing cardiac care for life. After undergoing their pacemaker procedure, the patient continues to see the same physician, whether that is at a local hospital, Heart Center, or a dedicated clinic day for ForHearts Worldwide patients. Physicians treat these patients no differently than “paying” patients.
“The aspect of ‘patient for a lifetime’ is truly that. It is the lifetime of the patient, not the device,” says Laura DeLise, Executive Director of ForHearts Worldwide. “They are continuing to thrive because of their device and the fact that they are our patient for life.”
You can help a patient receive the lifelong care they need in order to live out a long and happy life. Explore our donation opportunities.