If you have atrial fibrillation or another heart arrhythmia, lead extraction is a procedure you should know about, even if you don’t currently use a pacemaker. This piece will help you discover the basics of lead extraction, learn about common reasons they are performed, and understand what to expect in the event that you require the procedure.

What is lead extraction?

Lead extraction is the process of removing single or multiple leads—small wires that transmit energy from a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to the heart muscle—from inside of the heart. It’s important for patients living with AFib and other arrhythmias to understand lead extraction because pacemakers and ICDs are often critical to the treatment process for these conditions.

Why do some patients need lead extractions?

There are several reasons a lead extraction may be necessary, but the most common one involves the presence of an infection in the body near the area of the device or the lead itself. In most cases, it’s not sufficient to treat these infections solely by administering antibiotics and leaving the lead or the device implanted in the body.

Another common reason for lead extraction is when a lead becomes damaged inside the body or otherwise malfunctions. In some instances where no infection is present but a lead is not functioning properly, physicians may elect to place another lead on a different side of the body if the risk of lead extraction is especially high, but this is determined on a case by case basis.

Other problems that can result in the need for a lead extraction include the buildup of scar tissue around the tip of the lead and the blockage of a blood vessel by a blood clot or scar tissue. In all cases, a physician will have to make an individual determination as to whether or not a lead extraction is recommended based on unique circumstances.

What to expect during a lead extraction procedure

There are two different types of lead extraction procedures that are commonly used today. The first and most commonly used is the subclavian approach. In this method, an incision is made over the subclavian vein in the chest and the lead is extracted. If this is not possible, medical professionals will instead use the femoral approach, where the femoral vein in the groin is used as the extraction point. In both approaches, physicians place a tube in the vein which is then guided to the lead so it can be removed.

Understanding lead extraction in relation to AFib

AFib patients need to know about lead extraction in the event that they use a pacemaker for treatment, or if they might require a pacemaker in the future. If a physician has determined that you require a lead extraction, schedule a consultation with Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A. Our team of cardiac electrophysiologists and medical support staff perform lead extractions for patients throughout the Tampa area using the most innovative techniques available.