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Pacemakers and ICDs help thousands continue their normal lives


Pacemakers and ICDs help thousands continue their normal lives.

Scary news has come out about pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs).

A recent report from the University of California says undetected flaws can develop in these devices which may account for up to 30 per cent of the sudden deaths of patients who have been fitted with them.

The main problems seem to occur from hardware failures, dead batteries, lead fractures, inappropriate programming or fitting the wrong device.

This isn’t the news we want to hear. However, before there is panic by the quarter million or so patients who are living with pacemakers and ICDs in the UK, it is worth looking at numbers.

At the moment there are around 250,000 people in the UK fitted with these devices to help regulate their heart rhythms. An additional 50,000 are being implanted each year, which clearly shows an enormous number of people are being helped by these high tech devices.

Up to 14,000 people with these devices die in the UK each year and around half of these are sudden deaths. This means that at worst, faulty devices could contribute to the deaths of 2000 a year. This is of course tragic, but nevertheless also demonstrates that for the vast majority, these lifesaving devices are working well and doing the job they have been designed to do.

The study does indicate that the devices are not infallible, and more monitoring could be beneficial, but the technology is moving forward fast and significant advances are happening all the time improving the devices and the quality and length of life for patients.

It is also worth noting that the study was based on American statistics, where over three million people have permanent pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

While the study relates to both pacemakers and ICDs, there is a difference between the devices.

A pacemaker is a small device that’s placed under the skin of your chest or abdomen to help control abnormal heart rhythms. They are used to treat heart rhythms that are too slow, fast, or irregular, medical conditions known as arrhythmias.

Pacemakers uses low energy electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate and can relieve some of the symptoms related to arrhythmias, such as fatigue or fainting and help a person who has an abnormal heart rhythm resume a more active lifestyle.

ICDs, or implantable cardioverter defibrillators, are also small devices that are placed in the chest or abdomen. However, ICDs continually monitor heart rhythm, and send electrical pulses or shocks to the heart when they sense any abnormalities in the heartbeat. For example, if a patient with an ICD has an irregular heartbeat or goes into sudden cardiac arrest, the device will send a shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm. ICDs have been hailed as lifesavers, because they react fast and cardiac arrest can cause death within minutes if not treated.

For more information on pacemakers, visit
https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/treatments/pacemakers

For more information on icds, visit
https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/treatments/implantable-cardioverter-defibrillator

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