Heart Health

Pacemaker/Defibrillator Implant

Pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are surgically embedded devices used to manage heart conditions. While both devices work to improve the patient’s quality of life, they are not the same.

What is a Pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a small device used to help regulate an erratic heartbeat. Pacemakers replace the heart’s natural pacing functions by receiving and sending electrical signals to monitor the heart rate. A pacemaker is composed of a pulse generator and one or more leads. The pulse generator houses the battery and the electrical panel that regulates the pulses sent to the heart. The leads are insulated wires that deliver electrical pulses to adjust the heart rate.

Depending on your condition, your doctor may suggest one of the following types of pacemaker devices:

  • Single-chamber pacemaker. This type of pacemaker has one lead that connects the pulse generator to one chamber of your heart.
  • Dual-chamber pacemaker. This type of pacemaker has two leads that connect the pulse generator to both chambers of your heart.
  • Biventricular pacemaker. This pacemaker, also known as a cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) device, has three leads connected to the right atrium and both ventricles.
  • Single-chamber leadless pacemaker.This type of pacemaker is placed directly in your heart and connects directly with the heart muscle.  No lead is used in this type of device.


Typically, your doctor might prescribe a pacemaker if your heart beats too slowly or if you have certain types of an irregular rhythm. However, pacemakers may also be necessary if you have had an ablation procedure or take certain heart medications. 

Your cardiologist will make an incision just below the collarbone on your chest (right or left) side during the procedure.  The pacing leads are then inserted into a vein underneath the collarbone and guided to the heart’s correct chamber using x-ray technology. The other ends of the leads are connected to the pacemaker before placing the pacemaker in a small “pocket” in the chest underneath the skin. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia and typically takes about one hour. 

Complications from surgery to implant your pacemaker are uncommon but could include:

  • Bleeding from the incision or catheter insertion site
  • Damage to the vessel at the catheter insertion site
  • Infection of the incision or catheter site
  • Pneumothorax

What is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?

An ICD is a small device with a computer used to track the heart rate. Since ICDs often have pacemakers built into them, they can complete all the primary functions of a pacemaker. The main difference is the CD can deliver an electrical shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm of a chaotically beating heart. 

Your doctor might prescribe an ICD if you have had an episode of ventricular fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, have experienced cardiac arrest, or have had damage to your heart muscle that would place you at risk for these rhythm problems. 

The procedure used to implant an ICD is identical to that of the pacemaker.  As with pacemakers, there are types of ICD’s that are connected directly to the heart with leads and others that are “leadless.”

Complications from surgery to implant your ICD are uncommon but could include:

  • Bleeding from the incision or catheter insertion site
  • Damage to the vessel at the catheter insertion site
  • Infection of the incision or catheter site
  • Collapsed lung
  • Dislodging of the leads 


After you have a pacemaker or an ICD implanted, make sure you ask and understand your healthcare provider’s instructions regarding:

  • Activity limits
  • Driving
  • Medications
  • Precautions
  • Follow-up appointments
  • Device monitoring

Request an Appointment

Whether you need a pacemaker, an ICD, or both, Baptist Health is here to help. Call Baptist Health Healthline today to request an appointment with one of our heart specialists.