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Pacemaker syndrome

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Pacemaker syndrome
Ventricular pacemaker with 1:1 retrograde ventriculoatrial (V-A) conduction to the atria (arrows).

Pacemaker syndrome is a condition that represents the clinical consequences of suboptimal atrioventricular (AV) synchrony or AV dyssynchrony, regardless of the pacing mode, after pacemaker implantation.[1][2] It is an iatrogenic disease—an adverse effect resulting from medical treatment—that is often underdiagnosed.[1][3] In general, the symptoms of the syndrome are a combination of decreased cardiac output, loss of atrial contribution to ventricular filling, loss of total peripheral resistance response, and nonphysiologic pressure waves.[2][4][5]

Individuals with a low heart rate prior to pacemaker implantation are more at risk of developing pacemaker syndrome. Normally the first chamber of the heart (atrium) contracts as the second chamber (ventricle) is relaxed, allowing the ventricle to fill before it contracts and pumps blood out of the heart. When the timing between the two chambers goes out of synchronization, less blood is delivered on each beat. Patients who develop pacemaker syndrome may require adjustment of the pacemaker, or fitting of another lead to better coordinate the timing of atrial and ventricular contraction.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

No specific set of criteria has been developed for diagnosis of pacemaker syndrome. Most of the signs and symptoms of pacemaker syndrome are nonspecific, and many are prevalent in the elderly population at baseline. In the lab, pacemaker interrogation plays a crucial role in determining if the pacemaker mode had any contribution to symptoms.[5][6][7]

Symptoms commonly documented in patients history, classified according to cause:[2][5][6][8][9]

In particular, the examiner should look for the following in the physical examination, as these are frequent findings at the time of admission:[2][5][6][8]


Studies have shown that patients with Pacemaker syndrome and/or with sick sinus syndrome are at higher risk of developing fatal complications that calls for the patients to be carefully monitored in the ICU. Complications include atrial fibrillation, thrombo-embolic events, and heart failure.[7]


ECG of pacemaker syndrome

The cause is poorly understood. However several risk factors are associated with pacemaker syndrome.[5][10]

Risk factors[edit]


The loss of physiologic timing of atrial and ventricular contractions, or sometimes called AV dyssynchrony, leads to different mechanisms of symptoms production. This altered ventricular contraction will decrease cardiac output, and in turn will lead to systemic hypotensive reflex response with varying symptoms.[1][2][4][5]

Loss of atrial contraction[edit]

Inappropriate pacing in patients with decreased ventricular compliance, which may be caused by diseases such as hypertensive cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, restrictive cardiomyopathy, and aging, can result in loss of atrial contraction and significantly reduces cardiac output. Because in such cases the atrias are required to provide 50% of cardiac output, which normally provides only 15% - 25% of cardiac output.[8][12]

Cannon A waves[edit]

Atrial contraction against a closed tricuspid valve can cause pulsation in the neck and abdomen, headache, cough, and jaw pain.[8][10]

Increased atrial pressure[edit]

Ventricular pacing is associated with elevated right and left atrial pressures, as well as elevated pulmonary venous and pulmonary arterial pressures, which can lead to symptomatic pulmonary and hepatic congestion.[5]

Increased production of natriuretic peptides[edit]

Patients with pacemaker syndrome exhibit increased plasma levels of ANP. That's due to increase in left atrial pressure and left ventricular filling pressure, which is due to decreased cardiac output caused by dyssynchrony in atrial and ventricular contraction. ANP and BNP are potent arterial and venous vasodilators that can override carotid and aortic baroreceptor reflexes attempting to compensate for decreased blood pressure. Usually patients with cannon a waves have higher plasma levels of ANP than those without cannon a waves.[1][13][14]

VA conduction[edit]

A major cause of AV dyssynchrony is VA conduction. VA conduction, sometimes referred to as retrograde conduction, leads to delayed, nonphysiologic timing of atrial contraction in relation to ventricular contraction. Nevertheless, many conditions other than VA conduction promote AV dyssynchrony.[1][2][4][8][10]

This will further decrease blood pressure, and secondary increase in ANP and BNP.[13][14]


At the time of pacemaker implantation, AV synchrony should be optimized to prevent the occurrence of pacemaker syndrome. Where patients with optimized AV synchrony have shown great results of implantation and very low incidence of pacemaker syndrome than those with suboptimal AV synchronization.[1][4][5]



Diet alone cannot treat pacemaker syndrome, but an appropriate diet to the patient, in addition to the other treatment regimens mentioned, can improve the patient's symptoms.[citation needed] Several cases mentioned below:


No specific drugs are used to treat pacemaker syndrome directly because treatment consists of upgrading or reprogramming the pacemaker.[15]

Medical care[edit]

Surgical care[edit]

Sometimes surgical intervention is needed. After consulting an electrophysiologist, possibly an additional pacemaker lead placement is needed, which eventually relieve some of the symptoms.[1][4]


The reported incidence of pacemaker syndrome has ranged from 2%[16] to 83%.[11] The wide range of reported incidence is likely attributable to two factors which are the criteria used to define pacemaker syndrome and the therapy used to resolve that diagnosis.[17]


Pacemaker syndrome was first described in 1969 by Mitsui et al. as a collection of symptoms associated with right ventricular pacing.[17][18][19] The name pacemaker syndrome was first coined by Erbel in 1979.[18][20] Since its first discovery, there have been many definitions of pacemaker syndrome, and the understanding of the cause of pacemaker syndrome is still under investigation. In a general sense, pacemaker syndrome can be defined as the symptoms associated with right ventricular pacing relieved with the return of A-V and V-V synchrony.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ellenbogen KA, Gilligan DM, Wood MA, Morillo C, Barold SS (May 1997). "The pacemaker syndrome -- a matter of definition". Am. J. Cardiol. 79 (9): 1226–9. doi:10.1016/S0002-9149(97)00085-4. PMID 9164889.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Chalvidan T, Deharo JC, Djiane P (July 2000). "[Pacemaker syndromes]". Ann Cardiol Angeiol (Paris) (in French). 49 (4): 224–9. PMID 12555483.
  3. ^ Baumgartner, William A.; Yuh, David D.; Luca A. Vricella (2007). The Johns Hopkins manual of cardiothoracic surgery. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical Pub. ISBN 978-0-07-141652-8.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Frielingsdorf J, Gerber AE, Hess OM (October 1994). "Importance of maintained atrio-ventricular synchrony in patients with pacemakers". Eur. Heart J. 15 (10): 1431–40. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.eurheartj.a060408. PMID 7821326.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Furman S (January 1994). "Pacemaker syndrome". Pacing Clin Electrophysiol. 17 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1111/j.1540-8159.1994.tb01342.x. PMID 7511223. S2CID 42141301.
  6. ^ a b c d Nishimura RA, Gersh BJ, Vlietstra RE, Osborn MJ, Ilstrup DM, Holmes DR (November 1982). "Hemodynamic and symptomatic consequences of ventricular pacing". Pacing Clin Electrophysiol. 5 (6): 903–10. doi:10.1111/j.1540-8159.1982.tb00029.x. PMID 6184693. S2CID 12190701.
  7. ^ a b c Santini M, Alexidou G, Ansalone G, Cacciatore G, Cini R, Turitto G (March 1990). "Relation of prognosis in sick sinus syndrome to age, conduction defects and modes of permanent cardiac pacing". Am. J. Cardiol. 65 (11): 729–35. doi:10.1016/0002-9149(90)91379-K. PMID 2316455.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Petersen HH, Videbaek J (September 1992). "[The pacemaker syndrome]". Ugeskrift for Læger (in Danish). 154 (38): 2547–51. PMID 1413181.
  9. ^ Alicandri C, Fouad FM, Tarazi RC, Castle L, Morant V (July 1978). "Three cases of hypotension and syncope with ventricular pacing: possible role of atrial reflexes". Am. J. Cardiol. 42 (1): 137–42. doi:10.1016/0002-9149(78)90998-0. PMID 677029.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Schüller H, Brandt J (April 1991). "The pacemaker syndrome: old and new causes". Clin Cardiol. 14 (4): 336–40. doi:10.1002/clc.4960140410. PMID 2032410. S2CID 29038128.
  11. ^ a b Heldman D, Mulvihill D, Nguyen H, et al. (December 1990). "True incidence of pacemaker syndrome". Pacing Clin Electrophysiol. 13 (12 Pt 2): 1742–50. doi:10.1111/j.1540-8159.1990.tb06883.x. PMID 1704534. S2CID 33907579.
  12. ^ a b Gross JN, Keltz TN, Cooper JA, Breitbart S, Furman S (December 1992). "Profound "pacemaker syndrome" in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy". Am. J. Cardiol. 70 (18): 1507–11. doi:10.1016/0002-9149(92)90313-N. PMID 1442632.
  13. ^ a b Theodorakis GN, Panou F, Markianos M, Fragakis N, Livanis EG, Kremastinos DT (February 1997). "Left atrial function and atrial natriuretic factor/cyclic guanosine monophosphate changes in DDD and VVI pacing modes". Am. J. Cardiol. 79 (3): 366–70. doi:10.1016/S0002-9149(97)89285-5. PMID 9036762.
  14. ^ a b Theodorakis GN, Kremastinos DT, Markianos M, Livanis E, Karavolias G, Toutouzas PK (November 1992). "Total sympathetic activity and atrial natriuretic factor levels in VVI and DDD pacing with different atrioventricular delays during daily activity and exercise". Eur. Heart J. 13 (11): 1477–81. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.eurheartj.a060089. PMID 1334465.
  15. ^ a b c d "Pacemaker Syndrome: Treatment & Medication - eMedicine Cardiology". 2018-04-22. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ Andersen HR, Thuesen L, Bagger JP, Vesterlund T, Thomsen PE (December 1994). "Prospective randomised trial of atrial versus ventricular pacing in sick-sinus syndrome". Lancet. 344 (8936): 1523–8. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(94)90347-6. PMID 7983951. S2CID 31506854.
  17. ^ a b c Farmer DM, Estes NA, Link MS (2004). "New concepts in pacemaker syndrome". Indian Pacing and Electrophysiology Journal. 4 (4): 195–200. PMC 1502063. PMID 16943933. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  18. ^ a b Travill CM, Sutton R (August 1992). "Pacemaker syndrome: an iatrogenic condition". British Heart Journal. 68 (2): 163–6. doi:10.1136/hrt.68.8.163. PMC 1025005. PMID 1389730.
  19. ^ Mitsui T, Hori M, Suma K, et al. The "pacemaking syndrome." In: Jacobs JE, ed. Proceedings of the 8th Annual International Conference on Medical and Biological Engineering. Chicago, IL: Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation;. 1969;29-3.
  20. ^ 2 Erbel R. Pacemaker syndrome. AmJ Cardiol 1979;44:771-2.

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