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Inside the heart there are nodes, or special cells, which produce electrical impulses. These impulses regulate the heartbeat. When the nodes become damaged or don’t work as they should, a child may have an irregular heartbeat. This condition is known as an arrhythmia.
Pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) can help children who have certain kinds of arrhythmias. These small, implanted devices regulate the heartbeat or prevent certain arrhythmias from occurring. They are safe, effective long-term treatments for heart rhythm disorders.
Your child’s pediatric cardiologist will explain why a pacemaker or ICD may help your child. Often, children may need one of these devices if they:
A pacemaker is a small device that creates electrical impulses. These impulses regulate your child’s heartbeat. Your child’s pediatric electrophysiologist (heart rhythm specialist) programs the pacemaker to the correct settings for your child.
Pacemakers are useful if a child’s heartbeat is too slow. When the pacemaker detects a pause between beats that is too long, it sends an electrical impulse to the heart. This impulse prompts the heart to beat. A pacemaker ensures a child’s heartbeat stays within a normal range.
An ICD does two things to help with arrhythmias:
Doctors may recommend an ICD for a child who is at risk of having a life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia, such as:
The ICD may store information about your child’s heart rate. This information helps doctors choose the best settings for it.
Implanting a pacemaker or ICD is a minor surgical procedure. The insertion may take place in a cardiac catheterization lab or an operating room.
Our pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists keep children safe and comfortable during this procedure. Afterward, children may have some soreness at the incision site. If they do, we provide pain relieving medication for your child. Read more about pediatric cardiac anesthesiology.
Pacemakers and ICDs run on batteries that last for several years. Our pediatric electrophysiologists see your child regularly to check the battery. When the battery level starts to go down, we schedule a procedure to replace it.
Children usually need general anesthesia for the battery change.
After children get their pacemaker or ICD, our pediatric electrophysiologists coordinate follow-up care. These visits ensure the device continues to work properly. Children may also see other heart specialists, depending on their heart condition and other health needs.
Many children live full lives with a pacemaker or ICD. Ask your child’s cardiologist if you have questions about their device.
Learn more about the arrhythmia treatment options we offer in our Electrophysiology Program.