Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How does the human heart work?

A: The heart is a double pump with the right side receiving blood (low in oxygen) from all the veins in the body and then it pumps that blood through the pulmonary artery to the lungs, where it will become re-oxygenated. The heart’s left side receives this oxygen-rich blood from the lungs, which it then pumps through the aorta to the body. As blood circulates through the body, it delivers oxygen and nutrients to tissue through the arteries and picks up carbon dioxide through the veins. The veins return the de-oxygenated blood to the right side, and the cycle begins again.

Q: How do the heart’s valves work?

A: The heart has four valves that function like one-way doors to keep the blood in the heart flowing in one direction. The valves open to let blood flow out, and then close to keep the blood from returning.

Q: What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest and who is at risk?

A: Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart abruptly stops beating, halting the circulation. People who have survived a previous heart attack or who have been diagnosed with some form of heart disease are at risk for SCA.

Q: What are symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

A: Some symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) include sudden collapse, loss of consciousness, abnormal breathing, inability to find a pulse and loss of blood pressure. However, sudden cardiac arrest can occur without any warning at all.

Q: How do you treat Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

A: Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can be treated immediately with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or an automated external defibrillator. People who are recovering from SCA or have the potential for SCA may receive an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

Q: What is Ejection Fracture?

A: Ejection fraction (EF) refers to the amount of blood pumped out of the heart with each beat. EF is an important measure of how well your heart muscle is functioning. People with a low EF (35% or below) are at risk for developing abnormal heart rhythms and sudden cardiac arrest. An echocardiogram is a commonly used test to determine EF.

Q: What is the difference between a pacemaker and an ICD?

A: A pacemaker can speed up a slow heart rate. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can slow down a fast heart rate. Many ICDs also contain a built-in, full-featured pacemaker.

Q: How does my doctor adjust the setting on my ICD after my implant?

A: A special tabletop computer, called a programmer, enables your doctor to talk to and evaluate the ICD’s performance and change its settings. A telemetry wand is placed on your chest, over where the device is implanted, enabling the doctor to talk to the device and vice versa.

Q: How effective are ICD’s at treating Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

A: Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) have proven to be over 98% successful at restarting hearts that have gone into sudden cardiac arrest.

Q: How big are today’s pacemakers?

A: A typical pacemaker is very small, often less than 2 inches wide and a quarter inch thick.

Q: How many people have pacemakers in the world?

A: The number exceeds 2 million. There are 300,000 implants each year all over the world, some of which are replacements.

Q: Can people hear and feel pacemakers “tick” inside of them?

A: After a pacemaker is implanted, the patient will be probably be aware of it for a while. This is a normal feeling and will lessen with time. However, the pacemaker does not make sounds; no one will be able to hear it.

Q: Can pacemaker patients live an active lifestyle of jogging, tennis, skiing, etc? What if they do something too strenuous for the pacemaker to handle?

A: Typically, pacemaker patients can continue to lead active lives. If they did it before, most likely, they’ll be able to continue, but should check with their doctors first. Because patients’ energy levels may increase after the pacemaker is implanted, they may be able to do some things that they were not able to do in the past before their implant.

Q: Do pacemakers place any limitations on patients’ sex lives? Can people take Viagra if they have a pacemaker?

A: After the brief stay in the hospital and a short recovery period, pacemakers don’t have any adverse effects on patients’ sex lives. As a matter of fact, if a patient’s sex life was limited before the pacemaker due to a very slow heart rate, it may be significantly better after the implant. As for Viagra, or any other drug, patients’ should consult with their doctor first to make sure it is appropriate for them and whether there are any interactions with any cardiac drugs they may be taking.

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