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Each year, an estimated 200,000 people in the U.S. get a pacemaker—consisting of a metal, disc-shaped battery surgically placed under the skin of the chest and connected to the inside chambers of the heart by insulated wires. Pacemakers detect and correct abnormal heart rhythms using mild electrical pulses delivered directly to heart muscle.
While traditional pacemakers have helped save countless lives, the wires can introduce problems such as infection, narrowing or blockage of veins, irritation, and becoming broken or disconnected from the generator. Research suggests that 1 in 6 patients with dual-chamber pacemakers with leads have complications within three years after placement.
But a new, dual-chamber leadless pacemaker technology is giving patients who need this therapy a safer option.
MedStar Washington Hospital Center is among a select few U.S. hospitals offering the revolutionary Aveir™ DR Dual Chamber Leadless Pacemaker. Our experts were involved in the clinical trial that tested the Aveir system, and we implanted the D.C. region’s first FDA-approved dual-chamber leadless pacemaker in November 2023.
Dual-chamber leadless pacemakers work wirelessly from within both the upper and lower chambers of the heart, sending pulses through the blood from tiny capsules that are screwed into the walls of those chambers. The technology eliminates the need for wires and open implantation surgery, reducing risks and offering swifter recovery.
How does the dual-chamber leadless pacemaker work?
While traditional pacemakers are roughly the size of an eyeglass lens, the two capsules of the dual-chamber leadless pacemaker are smaller than AAA batteries. Leadless pacemakers offer a range of benefits, including:
- Quick recovery and less discomfort
- No surgical scar or site inflammation
- Elimination of wire-associated infections, vein blockages, or breakage
- No arm movement restrictions after implantation
Implanting the device requires no surgical incision. The patient gets a sedative and local anesthetic, and we make a minor incision near the groin where a thin catheter is inserted into the femoral vein. Under real-time X-ray guidance, we route the catheter to the heart. Then we advance the capsules through the catheter and secure them inside the two heart chambers.
The doctor uses a special computer program to activate and customize the pacemaker activity to your heart’s specific needs. Once the system is activated, the capsules track heart rhythm activity and communicate this information wirelessly by sending messages between the two capsules through the bloodstream. When the heartbeat is too slow, the capsules deliver rhythm-regulating electrical pulses fully contained inside the heart’s chambers.
The minimally invasive procedure typically takes about an hour and most patients go home the same day—many can resume full physical activity within a day or two. Leadless pacemaker implantation eliminates risks associated with wire leads. There is a low risk of bleeding, over penetration of heart tissue, and fluid buildup around the heart. The leadless device has a battery life of up to 10 years and can be easily retrieved for replacement.
Living with a leadless pacemaker.
After getting your device, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your environment to reduce the risk of electromagnetic interference. Undergoing specific medical procedures that involve electrocautery very close to the heart can temporarily disrupt the device.
Your doctor will provide specific guidelines for your device. In general, you can keep using most everyday items, such as your microwave, portable space heater, electric blanket, and toothbrush.
Medical and imaging procedures are safe with leadless pacemakers, including CT, MRI, and PET scans, mammograms, and diagnostic X-rays or ultrasounds. Talk with your doctor before getting other medical procedures, such as:
- Endoscopic procedures, such as colonoscopy
- Laser eye surgery, including LASIK
- Radiation therapy or radiofrequency ablation
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
MedStar Washington Hospital Center is on the leading front of heart care.
The Aveir DR Dual Chamber Leadless Pacemaker is one of the many innovative technologies heart patients can expect from MedStar Washington Hospital Center, backed by clinical evidence of safety and success.
Regaining normal heart rhythm can reduce chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, passing out, and shortness of breath to improve your quality of life. If you’re living with an abnormally slow heart rhythm, talk with a doctor about whether you may be a candidate for a dual-chamber leadless pacemaker.