A pacemaker is used to treat a heart that beats too slowly. This condition is called bradyarrhythmia. The pacemaker is implanted under the skin of your chest with wires attached into the heart. It monitors your heartbeat and provides electrical stimulation when it beats too slowly or stops, according to St. Jude Medical. Its power is supplied by a battery that must periodically be replaced.
Most pacemaker batteries last between seven and 11 years before they need replacing, according to the Vanderbilt Medical Center. Your doctor will check your pacemaker battery during regular check-ups. According to the Cardiology Associates, an electric wand is placed over your pacemaker to collect information stored in the computer chip. At the same time, it is collecting information on the battery charge.
You may also be able to use special equipment to transmit your pacemaker data over the telephone to your doctor. This way you can regularly monitor your pacemaker without scheduling an office visit, though most doctors suggest that you still schedule an in-person visit at least once a year.
When the battery is running low, it sends a special signal that lets your doctor know you need a replacement.
After your pacemaker signals the battery is weakening, you will have time to see your doctor and schedule replacement surgery. The battery will not immediately quit working.
The pacemaker is hermetically sealed and the majority of it is actually the lithium-iodide battery, so replacing the battery means replacing the pacemaker itself. This surgery is generally less invasive than the original implantation and can be done on an outpatient basis. You should be able to go home the same day.
The leads or wires attached to the heart are left in place and reconnected to the new pacemaker, making the procedure less time consuming. Attaching the original wires into the heart took the bulk of the operation time for the first pacemaker, so leaving them in place to be reconnected to the new unit shortens the procedure.
While you may be given sedatives to relax, many doctors prefer that you remain awake during the procedure so that you do not need to risk full anesthesia. Your recovery should be much quicker if you do not undergo anesthesia. You will be given a local medication to number the area around the heart and you should not feel any discomfort.
Recovery for pacemaker battery replacement generally takes just a few days. However, if you also need the wires replaced, then the surgery will be more similar to that of the original implantation.