Pacemakers Explained As Mike Pence Has Heart Procedure To Implant Device

Former Vice President Mike Pence underwent surgery on Wednesday to implant a pacemaker after experiencing "symptoms associated with a slow heart rate" over the past two weeks, his office said in a statement.

The "routine surgery" was successful and Pence is expected to fully recover and return to "normal activity" in the coming days, according to the statement.

But what do pacemakers do and how do they work?

A pacemaker is a small device that is implanted under the skin in the chest to help control the heartbeat, according to the nonprofit medical center Mayo Clinic.

The main function of these devices is to help the heart beat more regularly in individuals who have irregular or slow heartbeats.

They can be fitted temporarily to correct a slow heartbeat after a heart attack, surgery or medication overdose. They are also implanted in some people permanently to treat heart failure.

The human heart, which consists mainly of muscle that pumps blood around the body, keeps you alive. The organ is made up of four chambers: two on the left side and two on the right side. These are known as the right and left atria; and the right and left ventricles.

A group of cells at the top of the heart—known as the sinus node—sends electrical signals through the organ, causing it to contract and pump blood. In this sense, the sinus node acts as the heart's natural pacemaker.

But various factors such as aging, muscle damage from a heart attack, certain medication and genetic defects can lead to an abnormal heart rhythm. In these cases, one may require a pacemaker.

Pacemakers work by mimicking the action of the heart's natural electrical system, correcting the irregular or slow heartbeat as and when required.

They are typically made up of two main parts: a pulse generator and leads or electrodes. The pulse generator contains a battery and electrical components that regulate the rate of pulses that are sent to the heart. The leads are insulated wires attached to the chambers of the heart, which deliver the electrical pulses.

The statement from Pence's office noted that the former vice president's medical history included a diagnosis of asymptomatic left bundle branch block—a heart condition in which there is disruption in the arrival of electrical impulses to the left ventricle of the heart.

The condition is more frequently seen in older people and is usually associated with an underlying heart problem, although it can happen on its own. In the latter case, the condition does not usually cause symptoms.

Mike Pence at Joe Biden's Inauguration
Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, Pence underwent surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. McNamee/Getty Images