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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 00:04 GMT
Special pacemaker 'saves lives'
Pacemaker
Traditional pacemakers have been used for 40 years
Fitting a pacemaker for heart failure could save thousands of lives in the United States alone, according to research.

A study shows the intervention can halve death rates and reduce the need for a stay in hospital by nearly a third.

These specialised pacemakers have been known to improve the quality of life for heart failure patients

Dr David Bradley
Pacemakers are usually implanted to treat problems with the rhythm and rate of the heart.

According to doctors in the US, specialised versions can also help correct heart failure, a condition caused by weakened heart muscle.

In heart failure, the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood around the body.

It can happen after a heart attack, when the muscle of the heart is damaged, or because of a virus or excessive drinking.

Patients find it hard to exert themselves and become breathless and tired.

Emerging technology

A team at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland, analysed data from more than 1,500 heart failure patients.

They found mortality was much lower in those fitted with special pacemakers.

Lead researcher Dr David Bradley told BBC News Online: "The devices reduce mortality from heart failure by 51%."

The pacemakers are different from traditional ones, which prevent the heart from beating too slowly.

They have only been available for the past few years and are very expensive, costing from 15,000 to 35,000.

"These specialised pacemakers have been known to improve the quality of life for heart failure patients but whether they also save lives had been unclear," said Dr Bradley.

He said some 5%-10% of heart failure patients in the US would be suitable for treatment with the devices.

Regular rhythm

In the UK, only about 1,000 or so patients are fitted with pacemakers for heart failure.

Professor John Cleland of the University of Hull said more research results were needed to assess the true benefits of the devices.

"Pacemaker interventions are relatively expensive and do involve an operation on the patient and therefore we should be very confident about the risks and benefits of treatment for widespread use."

About 22,000 people in Britain are fitted with ordinary pacemakers every year. The electronic devices are mostly used to speed up heart rates.

The pulse slows down if the electrical connections between the different chambers of the heart are damaged. This can occur as a result of disease or a heart attack.

Pacemakers can restore a regular rhythm and without them many people would die.

The devices used to treat heart failure work by resynchronising the left pumping chamber of the heart, helping to improve cardiac function.

See also:

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