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Should Malfunctioning Pacemaker Leads Stay or Should They Go?

POSTED BY: Amber Ball

Over 2 million Americans rely on pacemakers to regulate their heartbeat.  A small battery-powered device, the pacemaker is tucked under the skin between the shoulder and the chest and helps adjust heartbeats that are too slow, too fast or irregular.  The device’s most important element is the special wires, called leads, which constantly monitor the heart’s rate and rhythm.  They send small, carefully timed electrical pulses to keep the heartbeat steady or, when needed, deliver a bigger jolt of energy to stop a potentially fatal rhythm and restore a normal one.  Leads can also detect other information about the body like breathing rate or body motion, which signals the pacemaker to increase your heart rate during exercise.

The Problem
In some cases, leads can unfortunately fail or malfunction due to the constant strain of flexing and bending.  Since leads are connected to the heart muscle, every time the heart beats or the shoulder moves, the leads move.  Over time they can twist, break or may even become infected.  While it is impossible to fix broken, failing or obsolete leads, they can be replaced with new wires.  Lead removal and replacement, however, depends on several factors.  

The Solution
“The challenge in removing leads from the heart,” explains Dr. George Palmer, Florida Hospital cardiovascular surgeon. “The fibrous scar tissue that can grow around the wire and adhere to it.”

In the past, when leads malfunctioned, they were removed during major surgery that required both a lengthy hospital stay and post-surgical rehab.  With today’s laser technology, that is no longer the case. 

“The laser removes scar tissue around the vein so the lead wire can be easily removed. With this procedure, patients can usually go home after a short stay,” says Dr. Palmer. 

At Florida Hospital’s Cardiovascular Institute, lead extractions and replacements are performed by cardiovascular surgeons George J. Palmer, MD, and Joseph H. Boyer Jr., MD

Join Dr. George Palmer on Thursday, August 8th, at Florida Hospital Orlando as he discusses pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators and your options for replacing old or defective wires. Call (407) 303-BEST (2378) to reserve your seat today!