published Thursday, January 12th, 2012

ASK A DOCTOR

Q: What is the difference between a pacemaker and a defibrillator?

A: Pacemakers and defibrillators are implanted devices that help the function of a sick heart. A pacemaker is necessary when the heart beats too slowly. Generally, this is implanted after reversible causes are ruled out and sometimes only if the patient is sympto-matic (for example, fatigue or passing out). A defibrillator is implan-ted after a heart has been weakened from other causes such as heart attacks. This condition is known as congestive heart failure and places the heart at higher risk of suddenly stopping. I tell my patients a defibrillator is an insurance policy that acts only when the heart tries to stop. It acts in the form of a shock that restarts the heart. This may occur only a few times during the life of the patient, whereas a pacemaker painlessly paces every day.

-- Dr. M. Christian Allan, Diagnostic Cardiology Group; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society

Readers: To submit a question for a medical doctor, e-mail it to Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com. See this space each week for answers.

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