“The likelihood of needing a pacemaker increases with age,” says Dr. Sunil Kapur, a cardiologist at the Heart and Vascular Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “The good news is that today’s pacemakers have evolved from fixing irregular heartbeats to helping the heart maintain its normal function, which allows many men with certain heart conditions to stay active longer.”
A pacemaker monitors the heart’s rhythm and, when necessary, generates a painless electrical impulse that triggers a heartbeat.
The most common use for a pacemaker is when the heart beats too slowly or pauses, which triggers dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting. (You should see your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.) A pacemaker also can help your heart chambers beat in sync and improve blood flow if your heart isn’t pumping enough blood. In some cases, a pacemaker may be needed to treat a heartbeat that is too fast or irregular.
These issues can stem from problems with the heart’s electrical signaling, a heart defect, an enlarged or thick heart muscle, heart failure, or a heart attack.
Several tests can help your doctor determine if you need a pacemaker: an electrocardiogram, which measures the heart’s electrical activity; Holter monitoring, in which you wear a small device to track your heart’s rhythm; or an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to produce images showing your heart’s size, structure, and motion.