Biventricular Pacemakers

One of our EP docs has been doing a roaring business in bivent pacers lately.  Between upgrades to existing pacemakers and new bivents we’ve been seeing these frequently.  On top of that, when we moved, our telemetry provider upgraded our system and software so we could actually see bivent pacing.  I figured that a quick primer on bivents was in order.

What is a biventricular pacemaker anyway?  It is what it says.  There is a lead in each ventricle, pacing each ventricle.  Historically, pacemakers have been one sided only, usually the right ventricle (RV) and/or right atrium (RA) due to ease of access.  You pop into the venous system, float a wire into the right side and you’re good to go.  The difficulty ramped up in reaching the left ventricle (LV) generally, the veins of the coronary sinus are harder to access and of a smaller caliber.  Thanks to advances in catheter size and mobility, this has gotten easier.

But why do this?  In heart failure, espcially dilated cardiomypoathy, the dilation of the heart makes the ventricles, well, floppy.  They get big and stretched out and consequently the condution system gets stretched out as well.  What begins to happen is that the RV and LV start beating out of time (or asynchronously), which in the end makes the heart work harder to achieve the output needed.  The harder workig heart stretches more, which make it work harder to maintain output and on and on down the spiral.  Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) with the use of bivent pacing enables the heart to start beating in time once gain.

I know that I’ve way oversimplified this, but I’m going for core concepts here.  But talking about CRT allows me to post up some great strips that I’ve picked up to demonstrate visually what is happening.

click for largerLooking closely, you notice a couple of things.  This is both a bivent and a dual chamber pacer.  Notice the spikes before the P wave and then the double spikes leading into the QRS complex.  We’re able to see both the RV and LV leads firing.  So instead of having only 1 lead firing in the RV and having the conduction impulse cross via cell-to-cell contact, each side of the heart is being paced, thereby getting better contractility and a better ejection fraction (EF).

Here’s the same patient:

click for largerI changed the tracing speed to 50mm/s to better illustrate the 2 separate ventricular spikes.

In many cases, this is coupled with a defibrillator (CRT-D) for the prevention of sudden cardiac death due to ventricular arrhythmias that folks with severe heart failure can be prone to.  And it is proven to work.  In the MADIT-CRT trials, there was a “29% reduction in death or heart failure interventions when comapred to traditional implated cardioverter defibrillators.”  (h/t Dr. Wes)

Yes, there are risks, there are patients this doesn’t work for and the cost is pretty steep (I’ve heard in the range of $45,000 for the device alone…) but it appears to do what it is intended to do.

Here’s a couple of resources for some in-depth information:

Cleveland Clinc: Biventricular Pacemaker

About.com: Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy

WebMD: Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy

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