Learn the Difference Between a Defibrillator and Pacemaker

By: Wake Forest Baptist Health

- When I talk about devices, devices are usually split up into two different types of devices. You have pacemakers and defibrillators. Pacemakers are able to pace your heart if your heart rate goes too slow, whereas defibrillators are just like the pads that you see on TV, when somebody goes into a deadly abnormal rhythm, they are shocked by the EMS team, and brought back into a normal rhythm. Well, this defibrillator is like having those pads with you at all times, so all defibrillators can shock somebody out of a very fast rhythm, but they also have pacemaker capabilities, so that if somebody's heart rate does drop too low, that defibrillator can also serve as a pacemaker. So defibrillators can be pacemakers, but pacemakers cannot shock like defibrillators. With pacemakers and defibrillators, the battery is located within the device, and these are relatively long-lasting batteries. They can last anywhere between five to 10 years depending on the device. Often times we're referred to for lead extractions for devices that may have been in for a long period of time.

After a device has been in for greater than a year, scar tissue tends to form between the vessel wall and the lead itself. So that prevents the lead from coming out easily. Whenever somebody has an infection, or if somebody has too many leads in one vessel, the patient is referred to us in order to remove those old leads to provide space for new leads, or to remove the source of the infection if the device is the cause of the infection.

The risk for infection over the lifetime of having a device is about two to three percent, so it's extremely low, but it is still a possibility. And we're able to extract these leads safely, so as to not require a open surgery to remove the leads.

Learn the Difference Between a Defibrillator and Pacemaker

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