The heartbeat’s rhythm is established by a natural pacemaker
, a small area at the top of the right atrium
(one of the small, upper chambers) made of specialized cells that produce electrical impulse
s. These impulses travel down and through the heart causing a sequential contraction
– first the atria contract followed by the ventricle
s’ (the lower, larger chambers) contraction, and thereby pumping the blood through and out the heart
. As the electrical impulse is generated and as it travels its established and specific pathway things can happen to interfere with the signal. The impulse may be too fast, too slow, irregular or it may be blocked from propagating down and out.
One of the treatments for a heart whose natural pacemaker is failing is an artificial pacemaker. This is a small, battery operated medical device that generates small electrical pulses that “pace” the heart, taking over for the sinoatrial node (the natural pacemaker) or overcoming a blocked pathway.
Artificial pacemakers can be permanent (internal) or temporary (external). They can be set for a certain number of pulses per minute. Most can turn themselves off when the natural heartbeat exceeds the artificial pacemaker’s pre-set rate.
Some things can interfere with artificial pacemakers’ proper functioning and should be avoided by persons dependant on them. Many people believe microwave ovens, electric blankets, and other home appliances interfere with pacemakers but in general home appliances are not dangerous. Newer cellular phones may be problematic. Some types of medical equipment can and do cause problems. Doctors and dentists should always know if a patient has an artificial pacemaker.
Patients with a pacemaker should always wear a medical alert bracelet or carry a wallet I.D. card with their medical information at all times. The rest of us should be courteous and obey signs telling us to turn off cell phones in hospitals or other places where pacemaker patients may be located.