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Temporary cardiac pacing
  1. Michael D Gammage
  1. Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust, Birmingham, UK
  1. Dr MD Gammage, Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TH, UK email: m.d.gammage{at}

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Paul Zoll first applied clinically effective temporary cardiac pacing in 1952 using a pulsating current applied through two electrodes attached via hypodermic needles to the chest wall in two patients with ventricular standstill.1 Although this technique was uncomfortable for the patients it was effective for 25 minutes in one patient and nearly five days in the second; this report heralded the ability to provide temporary ventricular rate support for patients with clinically significant bradycardia. Subsequent technological developments have provided endocardial, epicardial, and gastrooesophageal approaches to temporary cardiac pacing in addition to the refinement of external pacing. All approaches, however, are based on the provision of rate support from an external pulse generator via an electrode or electrodes which can be removed easily after a short period of pacing, as many of the situations requiring temporary pacing are transient and resolve spontaneously or have a correctable underlying cause. In a selected group of patients, permanent pacing treatment will need to be instigated before removal of the temporary system.

Indications for temporary pacing

The indications for temporary pacing can be considered in two broad categories: emergency (usually associated with acute myocardial infarction) or elective. There is, however, no clear consensus on indications for temporary pacing with most recommendations coming from clinical experience rather than scientific trials.2 For many patients presenting with bradycardia, however, conservative therapy and treatment of the underlying problem is the most appropriate management strategy. As a general rule, patients who may need to go on to permanent pacing should only have a temporary transvenous pacing wire placed if they have suffered syncope at rest, are haemodynamically compromised by the bradycardia or have ventricular tachyarrhythmias in response to bradycardia. In particular, patients presenting with sinus node disease rarely need temporary pacing, and the risks of infection and compromise of subsequent venous access …

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