On Heart Health Radio Episode 150, Bill called up to ask about pacemakers. Dr. Franklin Wefald gives some background. He has put in thousands of pacemakers. Listen to the show here. Dr. Wefald also tells a story on air of one of the few times he’s made a critical error putting in a pacemaker, and what he told the patient and the family.
Bill: Two quick questions for you. One, what are the general coronary symptoms that indicate a potential need for a pacemaker? Two, how long on average does a pacemaker, the equipment itself, last before it has to be replaced?
Dr. Frank Wefald: Good questions. So, as I understand it you want to know what are the symptoms that indicate you may need a pacemaker. Is that right?
Dr. Frank Wefald: OK, there are a lot of them. And sometimes you’re asymptomatic. You don’t feel anything. Most of the times it’s dizziness or just flat out passing out.
Dr. Wefald:Let me to give you an example. The last guy who needed pacemaker walked into my office with a big stitch wound on his head. I said, what happened? He said, I fell down and hit my head. Well, I always like to hear a story. And so, his story was that he was having a big, big urination which he had held off having, got up, hit the ground and passed out. So, I went over and hooked him up to the EKG machine, pushed on his neck and his heart stopped for 8, 9 or 10 seconds.
My staff goes running in because I’m telling him to COUGH! Sometimes a cough will bring it back. I hit him in the chest. Sometimes that will bring them back. [By the way, the patient is just fine now — Dave.].
You can have either rapid heartbeats followed by dizzy spells or you think you’re going to pass out. A pacemaker will not control your rapid heartbeat most of the time. There are certain pacemakers who will shock your heart when the top part is beating fast in A-fib. That’s rare.
But the pacemaker is there to prevent it from slowing down too much. So, what happens? You can have blockages of the electricity going to the bottom of the heart. You may not even feeling it but you may have an EKG that puts you at risk so the doctor will do a monitor for a couple of days, seven days, and pick up that intermittently that your heart is not passing the electricity through the top part to the bottom part. Then you need a pacemaker to prevent the passing out.
So, the most important thing if you’re dizzy or having episodes where you feel like you’re going to pass out, go to your doctor because they can diagnose that and then a pacemaker will actually cure that. Now, how long do they last? Unbelievable!
When I first started 30 years ago they lasted two or three years and then you had to get a new device. The device is not just a battery. It’s not just a computer. They don’t come in two parts. It’s one size fits all, one device that has the battery and the computer. Now they are lasting twelve to fourteen years. That’s not only because the battery works better. It’s because the wires…I will call them wires, they’re not sharp they are leads and they’re soft as spaghetti…they’re better at picking up when the pacemaker needs to work and they are also better at transmitting the electricity in short bursts and in low voltages to the heart muscle.
Instead of lasting three or four years when I first started, they’re lasting twelve to fourteen years. Who knows, the next ones may last twenty years.
Always consult your doctor about changing your health regimen or diet. Don’t install a pacemaker yourself. Always see a surgeon. For medical information every week, listen to Heart Health Radio on Newsradio-680 WPTF Saturdays an noon, or on Apple Podcasts, or at WPTF.com. — Dave Alexander
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