"Revolutionary" is not a word that Dr. Charles Athill uses often. But the Sharp-affiliated cardiac electrophysiologist says it's the best way to describe a new type of pacemaker now available for his patients at Sharp Memorial Hospital, as well as patients at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
No bigger than a large vitamin capsule, the Micra pacemaker is the world's smallest device designed to regulate abnormal heartbeats. It fits inside the heart, eliminating the need for wires called leads. In traditional pacemakers, the leads send electrical pulses to the heart from a battery implanted in the chest or abdomen.
"Leads have really been the Achilles' heel of pacemakers," Dr. Athill says. "The body is a hostile environment, so the leads can break down or cause infections. Nevertheless, they've been the best option for treating abnormal heartbeats until now."
In the Micra pacemaker, the entire "brain" and battery of the technology is contained in one device. It's so small that doctors can implant it into the heart without open surgery, using a catheter through a vein in the leg instead. The pacemaker attaches to the heart wall through small prongs and sends electrical impulses through electrode tips when it senses a slow heartbeat.
This minimally invasive approach can result in less pain and scarring, a shorter recovery period and a quicker return to normal activities. It also leaves no sign of a medical device under the skin.
“In the right clinical setting, the Micra pacemaker affords a procedure that is safer compared to traditional pacemakers,” says Dr. Dimitri Sherev, an interventional cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “It also represents some of the latest, least invasive and least traumatic procedures we are bringing to Sharp HealthCare to help our patients live healthier lives with fewer complications.”
Patients with the Micra pacemaker can still have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The battery is designed to last about 12 years, similar to traditional pacemakers. When the battery runs low, a new device can be implanted and the existing device left in place.
More than 250,000 adults nationwide have pacemaker implants. Currently, the Micra pacemaker, which is manufactured by Medtronic, can only be used for patients who need a single chamber pacemaker, also known as a ventricular pacemaker.
"We would love to have a leadless, dual chamber device like this for patients who need more sophisticated pacemakers," Dr. Athill says. "I'm sure in the next few years it will happen."
This story was updated in January 2018 to include the availability of this procedure at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Charles Athill about the Micra leadless pacemaker for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.