Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Steering clear of pacemaker infections

Heart Beat

Steering clear of pacemaker infections

As the number of people who get pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) grows year after year, so too does the number of people who develop infections from them. Up to 6% of people who get a pacemaker or ICD develop an infection from it, and the infection rate is growing faster than the implantation rate. Some of these infections are minor; some are very serious.

Finding factors that promote or prevent infection can help reduce this complication. French researchers did just that by combing through a database that included information on more than 6,000 people who had a pacemaker or ICD implanted. In this group, the chance of developing a post-procedure infection was increased by

  • having a fever 24 hours before the device was implanted

  • the use of temporary wires to keep the heart beating steadily before implantation

  • an early follow-up procedure to remove a blood clot, fix a dislodged or broken wire, or replace a pacemaker or ICD generator.

Taking antibiotics before having a pacemaker or ICD implanted was one thing that significantly reduced the chances of later infection, something earlier studies have also shown.

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