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Temporary Cardiac Pacing

What is temporary cardiac pacing?

Temporary cardiac pacing is the use of an electrical device to help the heart beat normally. The device is inserted with a catheter while you are in the hospital. You may need temporary cardiac pacing if your body's natural pacemaker is not working properly.

When is temporary cardiac pacing used?

Special heart cells, called pacemaker cells, send electrical signals that cause the heart muscle to contract and pump blood to your body. Sometimes a heart attack, infection, medicine, or disease damages the heart. As a result, the pacemaker cells may not work properly. When they do not send signals correctly, your heart rate may be very slow. When your heart beats too slowly, it may not pump enough blood for your body's needs. You may feel lightheaded, tired, or faint.

Temporary cardiac pacing is rarely needed for more than a few days. It may be used to control the heart rate when:

  • A heart attack damages the pathways that carry electrical signals in the heart. Temporary pacing is used until the damaged pathways heal.
  • Disease or aging cause permanent damage to a pathway. Temporary pacing is used until a permanent pacemaker is installed.
  • Something causes a "short circuit" in the heart. This causes a very fast heart rate. These rapid beats often come in short bursts. Temporary cardiac pacing may be used to control the heart rate until medicines take effect.
  • You have open heart surgery and need help for a few days to stabilize your heart rhythm.

What happens during the procedure?

You will be given a shot to numb the area where the catheter will be inserted. You will stay awake during the procedure.

A long, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into a vein leading to your heart. The vein commonly used is in either the neck or under the collarbone.

Your healthcare provider will direct the catheter through your vein to the lower right chamber of your heart (the right ventricle). One end of the catheter has an electrode at its tip. The other end of the catheter is attached to a small pulse generator box containing batteries. The generator box is usually placed near you at the bedside or in a pocket of your hospital gown. The generator sends an electrical impulse that makes the heart contract. When you no longer need the temporary pacemaker, the electrode catheter will be removed.

How long do the effects last?

Temporary pacing is usually done for just a few days. If the heartbeat does not return to normal, a permanent pacemaker can be inserted.

What are the benefits of temporary cardiac pacing?

Temporary pacing is quite safe. It helps your heart beat until it can recover. This procedure is can be lifesaving. It stabilizes the heart function until the normal heartbeat returns.

What are the risks?

The electrode catheter is slightly stiff. Sometimes it punctures the heart muscle. Such a puncture of the heart is rare and hardly ever causes serious problems.

The tip of the catheter sometimes irritates nearby heart muscle. This can cause unwanted extra heartbeats. Adjusting the catheter position usually solves this problem.

If temporary cardiac pacing lasts for more than a few days, you may get an infection. If you get an infection, the pacing catheter will be removed and you will be given antibiotics.

Written by Donald L. Warkentin, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-10
Last reviewed: 2010-10-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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