ESC 2013: Pacemakers set life expectancy back to normal, researchers say

Dutch study shows pacemakers for slow heart rhythm restore life expectancy

A slow heart rhythm puts patients at risk of early death, but a cardiac implant may help reset those odds, according to a Dutch study presented this week at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam.

A study of pacemakers in 23 Dutch hospitals found that devices implanted to treat slow heart rhythm helped restore normal life expectancy.

Outcomes depended on whether patients also had cardiovascular disease, according to Dr. Erik Udo, who presented the results at the ESC conference. The study helps shed light on an old mystery, Udo added.

"Previous studies describing the survival of pacemaker patients used data that is more than 20 years old and cannot be used anymore for patient counseling and benchmarking," Dr. Udo said in prepared remarks. "There have been considerable changes in pacemaker technology and in the profile of pacemaker patients and a new reference point of prognosis in modern day cardiac pacing was needed."

The Dutch FollowPace study spanned multiple centers and included 1,517 patients who received their 1st pacemaker for slow or irregular heart rhythm, known as bradycardia, between 2003 and 2007, following them for an average of 5.8 years.

Participants had survival rates of 93%, 81%, 69% and 61% after 1, 3, 5 and 7 years, respectively. Those without cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure or coronary artery disease at the time of pacemaker implantation had similar survival rates to general population controls, matched by age and sex, the study found.

Dr. Udo urged doctors to pay more attention to the detection and treatment of cardiovascular problems beyond rhythm deficiencies in patients with pacemakers in order to improve their prognoses.

"The FollowPace study provides detailed documentation of current standard pacemaker care in a large representative sample of western pacemaker clinics," Dr. Udo concluded. "The results can therefore be considered a new benchmark of life expectancy of patients treated with today’s cardiac pacing."

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