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Lasers Safe for Removal of Pacemaker Wires in Elderly: Study

TUESDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Using a laser to remove wires that connect implanted pacemakers and defibrillators to the heart is as safe in patients aged 80 and older as in younger patients, researchers report.

The findings should ease safety concerns and increase the use of the procedure -- called laser lead extraction -- in octogenarians, according to the study in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology.

People older than 65 account for 80 percent of patients with implanted pacemakers and defibrillators. While most recipients have no problems, about 1 to 2 percent develop infections or damaged wires that require removal of the wires (leads).

This removal is usually accomplished with a gentle tug but this can't be done in patients who have a large amount of natural scarring caused by healing. These patients used to require open-heart surgery, but a laser removal technique was introduced in the late 1990s.

In this study, researchers examined the medical records of 506 patients who had laser lead extractions over a five-year period ending in June 2009. There were 118 patients 80 and older and 388 patients younger than 80. All the patients received new leads within one week of the removal of the old leads.

"We wanted to know if age was a risk factor in this procedure, and if octogenarians fare as well as younger patients," senior author Dr. Roger G. Carrillo, chief of surgical electrophysiology at the University of Miami Hospital, said in a journal news release. "We found no difference in risk."

Infection was the most common reason for lead extraction and infection rates were similar for both groups, as were rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about pacemakers.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology, news release, Oct. 6, 2011

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