A pacemaker is a small device that is inserted in the abdomen or chest area to help control abnormal heart rhythms. It utilizes electrical impulses to help the heart muscle maintain a proper rhythm and heart rate. The primary purpose of a pacemaker is to maintain an adequate heart rate, either because the heart's natural pacemaker is not fast enough, or because there is a block in the heart's electrical conduction system.
Modern pacemakers are externally programmable and allow a cardiologist to select the optimum pacing modes for individual patients. Some combine a pacemaker and defibrillator in a single implantable device.
Arrhythmias are abnormal beats. The term arrhythmia refers to any change from the normal sequence of electrical impulses, causing abnormal heart rhythms. Arrhythmias may be completely harmless or life-threatening.
Some arrhythmias are so brief (for example, a temporary pause or premature beat) that the overall heart rate or rhythm isn't greatly affected. But if arrhythmias last longer, they may cause the heart rate to be too slow or too fast or the heart rhythm to be erratic – so the heart pumps less effectively.