Keeping Pace with Pacemakers: January 12, 2011

New statistics show that more Americans are outliving their pacemakers so keeping those devices up to date becomes even more important. “There’s been a bit of a change in our philosophy, especially in our younger folks, that we don’t want to leave a lot of abandoned hardware in people that’s not serving any great function,” says Lee Memorial Health System cardiologist Dr. Erick Burton.

In order to keep the pacemaker and the body in rhythm, old techniques for changing pacemaker leads are getting an upgrade. “Traditionally, getting wires out of people after a long time is a much more difficult task and a much more dangerous task,” explains Dr. Burton. “So over the course of the past several years, we have designed new tools that allow us to remove these leads in a safer fashion.

It’s called a Pacemaker Lead Extraction, a minimally invasive technique that uses laser technology to remove old wires when new ones are attached. “Before we had this technique, if a wire broke, we would just stick a new wire in and leave the old wire in place. Especially in our younger patients, that kind of accrued hardware over the years can start to take up a lot of room and make it much more difficult for us to be able to upgrade people from one system to another system down the road.”

Pacemaker Lead Extractions are often performed on patients who are expected to live another 20+ years. The procedure takes 2-6 hours and usually the patient is back to normal, everyday activities within a week.

If a blockage is found, and an additional procedure is needed, the non-interventional cardiologist would refer the patient to an interventional cardiologist for the angioplasty or whatever procedure is needed.