For patients with cardiac issues, such as history of heart attacks or strokes, heart disease, coronary artery disease, and many others, it can be difficult to continue to live a normal life without medical intervention. For many, pacemakers and AICDs (Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators) are their literal lifesaver. There are several differences in the usage, necessity, and risks of each of those cardiac devices, and it is important to distinguish between the two. Generally, pacemakers are used to slow or speed up the patient’s heartbeat, and AICD is used to slow a chaotic heartbeat and provide shocks as needed. Let’s dive into more details on the pacemaker and the AICD implant.

What are AICD implants and Pacemakers?

First, let’s explore the pacemaker. The pacemaker is a medical device about the size of a matchbox that is placed under the skin and connected to the heart. The pacemaker generates low pulses of electrical currents to the heart. Delivered by electrodes, this causes the heart to contract, replacing and/or regulating the electrical system of the patient’s heart. This device uses batteries to send those electric signals to the heart, and it only engages in such when the patient’s heart needs it to work.

The AICD is also a medical device implanted under the skin and connected to the heart of a patient. This device can monitor the patient’s heartrate, slowing or speeding up the heart as necessary. If the patient’s heart is beating at a high rate or is beating irregularly, the AICD provides a shock to the heart to regulate it. Made up of two major parts, the AICD has electrodes that monitor and deliver shocks to the heart and a generator as the power source and storage space for information on how often the heart is shocked/needs to be shocked.

Aren’t They the Same Thing?

The pacemaker and the AICD are not the same thing. However, there are some similarities between the two devices. First, both the pacemaker and the AICD are surgically placed implants used to regulate the heart rate of a patient. In fact, most AICDs have pacemakers built into them. They are both used on patients that are experiencing heartbeat abnormalities, and they are both lifesaving devices.

However, the differences between the pacemaker and the AICD are much more necessary to understand. The pacemaker delivers a low-level electrical pulse, while the AICD delivers both low and high-level pulses. Generally, the AICD is the bigger device of the two devices. The AICD sends shocks when the heart is beating too fast or too irregularly, whereas the pacemaker can speed up or slow down the heart rate. Unlike the pacemaker, the AICD can detect more life-threatening arrhythmias in patients, and they have the capability to shock the heart back to normal rhythm from no rhythm. Also, the high pulses from the AICD usually feel stronger to the patient and cause minor pain, where the pacemaker does not. Pacemakers can, however, alleviate fainting and/or fatigue due to cardiac arrhythmias. Lastly, AICDs have been proven to be more effective in patients that are at a high-risk of or with a history of sudden cardiac arrest and those patients with significant Cardiac Artery Disease.

Are the Processes Different?

The processes for the pacemaker and the AICD are quite different. The pacemaker generates a low-level electrical pulse to the heart to regulate heartbeat, not necessarily addressing a life-threatening heart problem. The AICD provides a shock, sometimes quite intensely, if the patient’s heart rate is too high, irregular, or is not beating at all.

Which is Safer?

Both devices, as with all medical devices, have risks associated with them. Both devices, however, have the same risks when it comes to the insertion of the device. The installation of both the pacemaker and the AICD runs the risk of infection, as well as a possible allergic reaction from the dye used in these surgeries and swelling and bruising at the surgical site.

When these devices are being used, the risks are different and, in many cases, more severe. A patient with a pacemaker is at risk of damage to blood vessels or nerves near the pacemaker. They also are at risk for a collapsed lung. Patients with AICDs are at risk of bleeding around the heart, as well as leakage of blood in the valve in which the AICD is placed. They also are at risk for a collapsed lung. Patients who have these devices should inform their doctor of any complications with their device or otherwise.

In conclusion, both the pacemaker and the AICD are vital cardiac devices used to regulate and restore a patient’s normal heart rate. While they differ in many aspects of their application, usage, and risks, they are both saving many lives of cardiac patients around the world. If you have any questions regarding these devices or any other cardiac-related questions, contact the specialists at CT Cardio. Their knowledgeable staff is ready to serve you!