Biventricular pacemaker: Cardiac resynchronization therapy for heart failure

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Biventricular pacemaker: Cardiac resynchronization therapy for heart failure

Biventricular pacemakers, also called cardiac resynchronization devices, help your heart beat more effectively.

You have heart failure and your doctor says you need a biventricular pacemaker. You may be thinking, "Bi-ven-tricky what?" But don't fear the complicated-sounding name, a biventricular pacemaker is a symptom-improving device that stimulates or "paces" both of your heart's lower chambers (ventricles) to help your heart pump more efficiently and improve your quality of life.

Who needs a biventricular pacemaker?

Not everyone who has heart failure needs a biventricular pacemaker. If you have moderate to severe heart failure, certain conduction problems, or your heart failure symptoms persist despite the use of medications, you may be a candidate for a biventricular pacemaker.

What's implantation surgery like?

The surgery to implant a biventricular pacemaker can be performed with local anesthetics and a sedative that puts you in a relaxed state but allows you to remain aware of your surroundings. The procedure typically lasts two to three hours.

During implantation, a shallow cut is made in your upper chest and the pacemaker's leads are inserted through a puncture into a vein. The doctor then guides the leads through the vein and positions them inside your heart using X-ray images to guide the placement. Next the doctor creates a pocket under the skin just beneath your collarbone to hold the pulse generator.

How will you know it's working?

You won't feel your biventricular pacemaker while it's working. However, if your pacemaker includes a defibrillator, you may feel some discomfort if and when it kicks in to correct a life-threatening arrhythmia. Depending on how strong a shock is needed to reset your heart rhythm, you may feel anything from a light flutter to a stronger thump in your chest to a shock that can knock you to the ground. Discomfort lasts only a second or two, though, and ultimately may be saving your life.

You should notice an improvement in your heart failure symptoms shortly after your biventricular pacemaker is implanted. Perhaps you'll notice you're able to walk longer without tiring out. It may, however, take a month or more for you to notice marked improvement.

Last Updated: 11/20/2006
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