UC San Diego Health is the first in the region to implant a dual-chamber, leadless pacemaker
UC San Diego Health is the first in the region to implant a dual-chamber, leadless pacemaker

UC San Diego Health is the first health system in San Diego to successfully implant the world’s first dual-chamber, wireless pacemaker system to help treat people with an irregular heart rhythm known as arrhythmia, which can lead to complications such as palpitations, fainting and stroke.

The most common arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, will affect an estimated 12.1 million people in the United States by 2030, based on an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are the standard of care for regulating a patient’s irregular heart rhythm.

Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2023, a new leadless pacemaker system placed in both chambers of the heart and using new communication technology now offers a more minimally invasive option for patients.

UC San Diego Health implanted the pacemaker system in the first patient in February 2024.

“Having the ability to use a pacemaker system without electrodes on either side of the heart will allow us to treat more people who are currently living with cardiac arrhythmias,” said Ulrika Birgersdotter-Green, MD, cardiologist and director of Pacemakers and ICD services at UC San Diego Health.

Nearly 80% of patients who receive a pacemaker require a dual-chamber option. Although leadless pacemakers have been the preferred option for patients, historically they were only available to people who needed a pacemaker on one side of the heart.

“The new system consists of two devices — one in the atrium, or upper right chamber, of the heart, and one in the ventricle, the lower right chamber,” Green said. “The two devices then communicate with each other through the heart’s natural circulatory system, which controls the heartbeat.”

Traditional pacemakers and ICDs require leads, or thin wires, that conduct electrical signals into patients’ heart and blood vessels. The leads are attached to a battery-powered generator that is usually implanted under the skin, below the collarbone. The burst of energy can make the heart beat faster (with a pacemaker) or it can stop dangerously fast heart rhythms (with an ICD).

The new system, about the size of a AAA battery, does not require a surgical “pocket” under the skin because it is wire-free and has no generator, but rather is small enough to be delivered through a catheter and implanted directly into the heart, making it a more minimally invasive approach for patients.

“Wireless pacemakers are considered the future in the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias and have allowed many patients to live their lives without visible evidence of a pacemaker or cardiac device,” said Birgersdotter-Green.

The procedure is performed in the region’s first hybrid, state-of-the-art operating room at UC San Diego Health’s Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center. The pacemaker system can be removed or replaced at any time if a person’s treatment requirements change.

“This progress for our patients in need of cardiovascular care is the result of our outstanding multidisciplinary electrophysiology team at UC San Diego Health,” added Birgersdotter-Green.

UC San Diego Health’s board-certified electrophysiologists perform among the highest volumes of device implantations, cardiac ablations and laser lead extractions in the nation, offering advanced remote monitoring for devices using minimally invasive surgical techniques.

As part of the region’s only academic health system, the Cardiovascular Institute at UC San Diego Health is a center of discovery and innovation. Our heart and vascular programs have been ranked in the top 25 in the nation by US News and World Report.

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