Just like your smartphone is a hand-held computer, today’s pacemakers are like having a mini-computer in your chest. And like that smartphone, pacemakers are battery-powered devices that receive remote programming and software updates. Eventually, they need replacing once the battery has reached the end of its lifespan.

But how do you know when that is? We will walk you through how today’s cutting-edge pacemaker technology and monitoring ensures your device is operating at peak performance, so your team of cardiac experts can have a new device ready for you before that performance drops.

Monitoring Pacemaker Performance and Battery Life

The heart is essentially an electrical system, with the sinus node, located in the right upper chamber of the heart, generating an electrical stimulus that contracts the heart (about 60 to 100 times a minute), with each contraction representing one heartbeat. A pacemaker works by connecting to this electrical system via wires (called leads) and sending electrical pulses from the device’s pulse generator to regulate the rate and rhythm of a heartbeat.

Besides its primary function of regulating heartbeats, the pacemaker also helps the doctor monitor the heart by sending data remotely. 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. This will allow the doctor to monitor heart rhythm health and conduct pacemaker “maintenance,” such as device reprogramming, software updates, and battery lifespan tracking.

Some pacemakers have remote monitoring systems that come with specialized equipment, such as “in-home device interrogation systems.” You can check the battery life and various pacemaker functions by using a special wand placed on the skin over the pacemaker. This wand then wirelessly connects to a device programmer to transmit performance data.

Besides these forms of remote monitoring, your doctor will assess your pacemaker’s battery performance during your regular follow-up appointments. Pacemaker patients typically have check-up visits with their cardiologist one month after the device is implanted, and then every 6 – 12 months going forward.

How to Know When Your Pacemaker Needs Replacing

Your doctor and device monitoring team will conduct pacemaker battery checks (and ultimately, replacement recommendations) based on the battery performance and lifespan of your device. The average lifespan of a pacemaker is from five to upwards of ten years, depending on the type of device used and the patient’s health.

If you are worried that a slowing pacemaker (and therefore, decreased heart rhythm regulation) is your “warning” that the battery is about to die, you do not need to be. Pacemakers are designed to provide warning signals before the battery runs out, typically several months in advance for ample time to schedule a pacemaker replacement. The “warning signal” can be unique to each device. For example, some models have a beeping noise as their low battery indicator. Be sure that you are familiar with your device’s battery lifespan and low battery signal, so that you know what to watch out for.

The chance of premature battery failure in a pacemaker is extremely low. Less than 1% of pacemaker batteries fail to last the minimum five year average. Early failure could mean the battery is defective, so it may also fail to trigger the low battery warning signal, and instead, cause warning signs like skipped heartbeat, slowed heart rate, or fainting. Your remote device monitoring should pick up on these, but be sure you contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of these physical symptoms.

With an implanted pacemaker, you can not simply pop in a new battery when the current battery starts to die! The pacing device, the battery-powered pulse generator, is a solid casing with the battery sealed inside. So, when the battery reaches the end of its lifespan, the pacemaker itself needs to be replaced.

What to Expect During a Pacemaker Replacement

Pacemaker replacements are typically an outpatient procedure that takes about two hours to complete. During the replacement procedure, the doctor will inspect the existing pacemaker leads, while connecting the new device, slipping it into the same position as your previous pacemaker. After the procedure, you will be observed for several hours to ensure the new pacemaker is properly regulating your heart rhythm, and you will receive instructions and restrictions regarding your pacemaker incision, similar to when you had your initial implantation procedure.

Then, you should be set for the next five to ten years until you need your next pacemaker. The younger you are when you receive your first pacemaker, the greater the likelihood that you will need multiple device replacements. For example, a young person who receives a pacemaker could be looking at upwards of 10 device replacements in their lifetime! So, if you are living with a pacemaker, you want to be prepared for this lifelong cycle of device monitoring and replacing.
As you can see, a dying pacemaker battery and pacemaker replacement are nothing to fear, especially when you keep your follow-up appointments with your cardiologist to ensure your pacemaker (and your heart!) are performing at optimal levels.

With this need for ongoing device monitoring and eventual replacement, pacemaker recipients through ForHearts Worldwide become patients for life! You can help to ensure that hearts in need around the world receive life-saving pacemakers and ongoing cardiac care. Explore our donation opportunities.