Is the Pope’s Pacemaker Related to His Retirement?
Now that Pope Benedict XVI has announced his plans for retirement, and the media has discovered he has a pacemaker, some news sources are speculating that the two situations are connected. After all, Popes very rarely retire. And if you have a pacemaker, you must have a serious heart condition, right?
Most people have pacemakers inserted because of heart rhythm problems. The majority of those problems are not immediately life-threatening, and they help people feel better, and can prolong their lives.
Pope Benedict received his pacemaker 10 years ago, and other than a routine battery replacement three months ago, he has had no problems with the device, according to news reports. He cited advancing age and fatigue as his reasons for retirement, neither of which are caused by a pacemaker.
Device is Size of Pocket Watch
What is a pacemaker? It is a small device about the size of a pocket watch that’s placed in the chest or abdomen to help control abnormal heart rhythms, called “arrhythmias.” Arrhythmias cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. A pacemaker uses low-energy electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.
Your heart rate may become disrupted because of normal aging of the heart. The heart muscle may become damaged if you’ve had a heart attack. Certain medications may affect your heart rate too.
A pacemaker becomes necessary because when an arrhythmia occurs, the heart may be unable to pump enough blood throughout the body. This can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, or fainting. If an arrhythmia is severe, you can lose consciousness or even die.
Because it improves blood flow, a pacemaker can relieve symptoms such as fatigue and fainting. It can also help users become more active.
Pacemakers perform different functions, such as:
- speed up a heart rhythm that is too slow
- help control an abnormal or fast heart rhythm
- allow the heart to contract normally in someone with atrial fibrillation, which causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver
- coordinate electrical signaling between the upper and lower heart chambers
- coordinate electrical signaling between the ventricles (lower chambers) caused by heart failure.
- prevent dangerous arrhythmias caused by a disorder known as “long QT syndrome”
There is an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which uses electrical pulses or shocks to help control life-threatening arrhythmias, especially those that can cause sudden cardiac arrest.
Pacemakers may be used either temporarily or permanently. Temporary devices are used after a heart attack that causes a slow heartbeat until the heart heals. Permanent devices are usually used for heart arrhythmias.
Receiving a pacemaker requires minor surgery. The surgeon inserts a needle into a large vein near the shoulder to thread the pacemaker wires through the vein and into your heart. An x-ray of the wires is used to help with placement. After the wires are placed, the surgeon makes a small cut in your chest or abdomen and slips the pacemaker under your skin. Next, the wires that lead to your heart must be connected to the pacemaker. Once it is in place, the surgeon must test the pacemaker to ensure it works properly. Then the incision is stitched closed.
The pacemaker is powered by a small battery and generator. The battery needs to be changed every five to 10 years during a minor surgical procedure.
It is not known what kind of heart problem Pope Benedict has that required him to have a pacemaker.