What is the Difference Between a Pacemaker and a Defibrillator?

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  • Written By: Angela Crout-Mitchell
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 February 2020
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Both a pacemaker and a defibrillator are used to stabilize the heart beats for people suffering from a variety of heart conditions. These devices are surgically implanted into the chest of the patient near the heart and are equipped with sensory devices, called lead lines, designed to monitor the frequency and strength of the heart beats. In addition to these similarities, a pacemaker and a defibrillator are used to treat different types of heart arrhythmia. Pacemakers are used to consistently electrically stimulate the cardiac muscle, helping to correct slow heart rates, while defibrillators actually contain a pacemaker device as well as a device designed to shock the heart back to its normal function rate.

A careful analysis of the patient's health and heart condition must be done before the decision can be made between the two to install a pacemaker or a defibrillator. Pacemakers are used to assist patients who experience abnormally low heart beat rates due to conditions such as dysfunction of the atrioventricular node or the sinoatrial. The lead lines of the device keep track of the heart beats to ensure they are at the correct rate for the individual. If the heart begins to beat too slowly, the pacemaker feeds a continuous electrical current to the heart muscle, prompting it to maintain the proper function. There is a wide demographic of heart patients potentially eligible for the pacemaker, and it is implanted in men and women of various ages.


Defibrillators are necessary for heart patients who experience highly elevated heart beat rates due to the poorly functioning heart muscle. Like the pacemaker, this device can be used for a large demographic and it too uses lead lines to closely monitor the activity of the heart. The main difference between the pacemaker and the defibrillator is the addition of an electrical shock feature that is designed to send current to the cardiac muscle when the heart rate increases to a dangerous level. This shock is potent enough to stop the heart's unnaturally high heart rates, allowing the pacemaker part of the device to generate the correct tempo of beats. Defibrillators are most often implanted in patients with more serious conditions.

The pacemaker and a defibrillator have a few traits in common, such as the use of electrical current to reestablish proper heart beat rate and their widespread use. They are both implanted in the chest wall during a surgical procedure and are only used in serious cases. With the use of a pacemaker or a defibrillator, the patients will schedule regular appointments with their medical teams for device monitoring and to ensure the patient continues to tolerate the presence of the lead lines and battery pack comfortably.


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