Difference Between Pacemaker & Defibrillator

Both pacemakers and defibrillators are devices used to help treat heart arrhythmias, a condition where the heart beats improperly. These medical devices can be implanted and provide low or high-energy shocks to prevent or stop potentially dangerous arrhythmias. Both devices can improve an individual's quality of life and give them peace of mind. Defibrillators and pacemakers have similarities and differences in their function, placement, and restrictions. 

Pacemaker VS Defibrillator

A defibrillator is used to shock an individual's heart back to a normal rhythm in the event their heart stops beating or is dangerously abnormal. Defibrillators send a strong electrical current in order to jump-start the heart and correct it back to a normal rhythm. 

A pacemaker is a small device implanted in an individual's chest that tells the heart when to beat slower and when to beat faster. A pacemaker monitors the heart at all times and sends small electrical impulses to regulate the heart rate. 

What Does a Pacemaker Do & How Does a Pacemakers Work

A pacemaker is a small device implanted in the upper chest with lead wires connecting to the heart. The pacemaker sends small electrical charges to the heart in order to regulate the heart's rhythm. The pacemaker monitors the heartbeat and detects when there are abnormal heartbeats or incorrect speeds. The way a pacemaker works is if the device notices the need to change the speed of the heartbeat a small electrical impulse is sent through the lead wires to the heart telling it to beat faster or slower. 

What Does a Defibrillator Do & How Does a Defibrillator Work?

A defibrillator provides a strong electrical shock that restarts the heart in hopes to return back to a normal heart rhythm. Defibrillators are used in emergency situations and come in a few different device types.

Defibrillator Types 

There are three types of defibrillators each with its own benefits and purposes. 

  1. Automated External Defibrillator (AED)
  2. Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)
  3. Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillator (WCD)

Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

An automated external defibrillator is a device that is typically in many public places such as hospitals, schools, malls, and offices. An AED is a crucial piece of medical equipment during  sudden cardiac arrest. This device will analyze the heart's rhythms and if needed provide a powerful shock to restart the heart and hopefully correct the abnormal heart rhythm. An AED is used in emergency situations and is placed on the victim by a bystander or EMS personnel. 

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator is a small device implanted in the chest to monitor an individual's heart rhythm. An ICD can deliver a high-energy shock if it detects a potentially fatal heart rhythm. Diagnosing and restoring the heart rhythm back to normal as quickly as possible is key. The ICD is designed to give high-energy shocks during severe heart arrhythmias but can also provide low-energy shocks to reset the abnormal heartbeat. 

Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillator (WCD)

A wearable cardioverter defibrillator is a vest that is worn externally and designed to detect and prevent sudden cardiac arrhythmias. Like the ICD and AED, this device can provide a high-voltage shock to restart the heart and detect sudden cardiac arrest as soon as possible. 

Defibrillator Surgery

The ICD procedure is very similar to that of a pacemaker procedure. You will be given antibiotics before the procedure and potentially asked to stop specific medicines. The doctor will provide pain medicine as well as anesthesia so you will be unconscious during the procedure. The ICD has lead wires that are threaded through the veins all the way to the heart. These wires stay in place and a small connected device will then be placed underneath the breastbone. The ICD will monitor the heart rhythm and provide a high current shock if a severe arrhythmia is detected. 

Pacemaker Procedure

Before having a pacemaker implanted doctors may place you on antibiotics and have you stop taking certain medications such as blood thinners. During the procedure, you will be unconscious and given medicine to prevent pain. The pacemaker had lead wires connected to the device that is then threaded through your blood vessels into the heart. A small incision will be made on the chest to attach the pacemaker just under the collarbone. Typically the pacemaker is placed on the side you use less, typically your non-dominant side. If you are right-handed it would be best to place the device on the left side. The lead wires once in place monitor the heart rate and send electrical signals to either slow or speed up the heart rate. After surgery, it is recommended to avoid heavy lifting and contact sports.

About every six months, you can get your pacemaker checked by your doctor. This will ensure the batteries are still working properly, the wires are still correctly placed, and the heart rhythm is staying on track. 

What Heart Conditions Require a Pacemaker

Pacemakers are typically used in individuals with arrhythmias, which is when the heart beats too slow or too fast. Some reasons an individual may need a pacemaker are 

  • Defective electrical conduction in the heart 
  • Structural defects of the heart 
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiomyopathy or an enlarged heart
  • Coronary artery disease 
  • Congestive heart failure 

Things You Can't Do with a Pacemaker

One important note about pacemakers is that strong electromagnetic fields should be avoided as they can have an effect on the accuracy of the device. Some medical procedures like MRIs may also impact a pacemaker so be sure to keep all of your medical staff up to date so they can make an informed decision. Most individuals can live a normal happy life with a pacemaker in place but some activities that may interfere with a pacemaker are

  • Metal detectors 
  • Arc welding
  • Electrical generators

What is the Difference Between a Pacemaker and a Defibrillator?

Pacemakers and defibrillators both serve vital jobs in improving an individual's quality of life, giving them peace of mind, and keeping them safe and healthy. A pacemaker regulates the speed of the heart rate and provides small energy currents to speed up or slow down the heartbeat. Defibrillators come in multiple types of devices and provide a strong shock to correct and restore the heart's rhythm. ICDs are implanted inside the chest and can provide a powerful shock if the device detects a dangerously abnormal heart rhythm. ICDs can also provide smaller currents to regular heart rates similar to a pacemaker. A WCD is a defibrillator worn externally in case of any sudden cardiac emergencies. Lastly, an AED is a defibrillator placed in public areas that can restart the heart with an electric shock but is used for anyone. Pacemakers and ICDs are typically for those with ongoing heart issues such as defects, heart arrhythmias, and coronary artery disease.