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Can Your Pacemaker Snitch On You?

25 Apr

Don’t you just hate it when your pacemaker snitches on you? I mean, apparently all you wanted to do was burn down your house and collect the insurance money but then your pacemaker spoke up. Your plans went up in smoke – – no pun intended.

Pacemakers surely have changed since I was in medical school. Back then, they had to be inserted in the abdomen and the pacemaker leads shoved up through the diaphragm where they were screwed into the heart muscle. It was a major procedure, done under general anesthesia. The device weighed around a pound and only lasted 12 to 18 months. Then you had the pleasure of doing it all over again.

Also, back then, pacemakers were mostly a safety net. They were used for people who had very slow heart rates, even episodically, to prevent dramatic drops in the heart rate that could lead to dizziness, falls, and loss of consciousness. Pacemakers were often set at 60 to 70 beats per minute which meant that your heart rate could never fall below that. The pacemaker would sit and watch the rhythm and any time the rate dropped below these parameters, the pacemaker would kick in and supply the electrical impulse the heart needed.

Things are much different now. Today’s pacemakers are small, about the size of a wristwatch in many cases, last a decade or more, and will do much more than simply provide a safety net. They can help regularize abnormal rhythms, increase heart rate in response to exercise, and do a myriad other things to make them more efficient and helpful.

They also store data. This means that the pacemaker can periodically be interrogated and everything that has gone on in the individual’s rhythm over the past few months is available for analysis. And some of the newer models actually send the data to a central monitoring station in real time. My how things have changed.

For Ross Compton, his pacemaker, which was of course equipped with all this new technology, just might have snitched on him. According to investigators, Compton allegedly torched his house, likely in an insurance scam. He said that once he saw the fire he began unloading his most important belongings out a window and ferried them to his car. It was a real fire drill of sorts.

However, when his pacemaker was interrogated it showed no changes that would be consistent with such frenetic activity. No arrhythmias, no high heart rates, nothing to suggest extreme physical activity during the time in question. Had he actually been lugging stuff out the window and racing to his car one would expect that his heart rate would be greatly elevated from the exertion. Apparently, that’s not what was found.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this case turns out.

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4 responses to “Can Your Pacemaker Snitch On You?

  1. marilynm

    April 26, 2017 at 6:22 am

    My hubby has one of the latest model pacemaker–made a huge difference in how he feels. I don’t think he’s planning any nefarious crimes–but maybe I should warn him–or not.

    Like

     
  2. Mary Lee Barton

    April 26, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Funny! What’s your take on the medical privacy issue?

    Like

     
    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      April 26, 2017 at 8:41 am

      I don’t know all the details here but I suspect they grabbed a court order.

      Like

       
  3. Sheila M. Good, Author

    May 3, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    I received a pacemaker (unexpectedly) at the end of 2012 – guess, I can cancel that big insurance policy I had on my husband! LOL.

    Like

     

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