Improving Pacemaker Safety

Cardiologist develops mathematical model to reduce the risk from heart-device wires

Martin C. Burke, DO Martin C. Burke, DO

Pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-debrillators (ICDs) can be lifesavers. But sometimes the "wiring" that connects them to the heart needs to be removed to treat dangerous infections and other complications, such as when a wire in the heart fails to function normally.

Making sure your physician knows when to remove these "leads" when there is an infection or before they fail is key.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine have developed a mathematical tool to help physicians do just that. Now they are turning it into a mobile app that physicians will be able to use when patients come in to have the battery on their pacemaker or ICD replaced.

The tool was developed by a team of physicians led by Martin C. Burke, DO, interim chief of cardiology and director of the Heart Rhythm Center, who presented their findings at the recent American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla.

By helping predict lead problems before they occur, the tool may allow more patients to benefit from these heart devices, Burke said.

"Approximately 60 percent of patients who are currently eligible to receive an ICD don't get this therapy," Burke said. "A major reason is the perceived risk of wire complications."

This includes many younger patients, such as those in their 50s, who delay getting an ICD because of concerns about what will happen to the leads over time.

"With this model, patients and their doctors will feel more comfortable knowing that we are able to address problems before they happen," Burke said. "Knowing when to extract or not based on safety to the patient is the most attractive piece of this research."

When leads have problems, University of Chicago Medicine physicians can remove them using state-of-the-art laser techniques. Due to their extensive expertise, University of Chicago Medicine heart rhythm physicians were the first in the country to test a promising new type of ICD that does not use leads in the heart.

When leads have problems, University of Chicago Medicine physicians can remove them using state-of-the-art laser techniques. Due to their extensive expertise, University of Chicago Medicine heart rhythm physicians were the first in the country to test a promising new type of ICD that does not use leads in the heart.

This story originally ran in the Spring 2012 issue of Imagine, a quarterly magazine published by the University of Chicago Medicine.
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