Defibrillator-Pacemaker: What's the Difference?: January 24, 2012

Bob Graham had no idea his heart was ailing until he collapsed at the gym.

“All of a sudden I just went over and that’s the last I remember until I woke up about two weeks later.”

When Bob left the hospital, he took two things with him; a stent to keep his artery open and a pacemaker that regulates his heartbeat.

“I have it checked about every three months, and they check it out to see if they have to put another new battery in.”

Pacemakers are often confused with defibrillators which can both be implanted in the chest. They both stay with you for life but inside are very different devices.

“A defibrillator is a device that’s very similar to a pacemaker. A defibrillator is a bit different in that it senses if the heart stops and can actually shock the heart internally and return normal function,” says Dr. Richard Chazal, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

The pacemaker is meant for patients like Bob, with heart arrhythmias, which are not treatable with medication. It only works when it’s needed.

“A typical pacemaker simply can keep the heart from going too slowly but if a person had their heart stop the pacemaker usually won’t work,” says Dr. Chazal.

About the size of a pocket watch, the pacemaker is smaller and targets arrhythmias. A slightly bit bigger in size, the defibrillator takes up the pacemaker’s function but includes the ability to jump-start the heart.

“A defibrillator will provide that pacing function but also in someone with a really bad heart where the heart might actually stop or having what we call ventricular fibrillation, that defibrillator can sense that event and immediately shock the heart within a matter of seconds,” Dr. Chazal.

You doctor can address the suitability of either device. Both have proven safe and reliable restoring patients quality of life.

“I live normal, I have no problems,” says Bob.