Harvard Heart Letter

Preventing pacemaker, ICD infections now a priority

If one occurs, early detection and immediate action are crucial.

Pacemakers and implanted cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) are helping the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people pump at the right pace or nipping potentially lethal rhythms in the bud. But more people are developing infections after receiving such devices. Those infections keep people in the hospital longer and increase their risk of dying.

Anytime the protective barrier of your skin is breached — whether it's from a splinter or a surgical incision to implant a heart-aiding device — there's a risk of infection. When a team of Philadelphia-based researchers tracked implantations of pacemakers and ICDs over a 16-year period, they found that the rate of implant-related infections jumped from about 1.5% in 1993 to nearly 2.5% in 2008 (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Aug. 30, 2011).

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