Septicemia necessitates extraction of chronic pacemaker leads. Using locking stylets and sheaths to extract leads via the implantation vein (subclavian, cephalic, or jugular) and maneuvering devices, sheaths, and retrieval baskets via the femoral approach, extraction of 228 leads implanted 5 days to 240 months (mean 55 months) was attempted in 136 patients (mean 62 years) at 34 institutions. In addition to septicemia (9%) and infection (39%), total 48%, indications included prophylaxis/replacement (40%), and other (12%). Seventy-seven leads were atrial, 151 ventricular; 147 were unipolar, 81 bipolar; 96 had silicone insulation, 127 polyurethane, 1 poly/silicone, and 2 undetermined. Fixation included tines or fins (160), screw (40), flange (12), and other (16). One hundred and ninety-four leads were completely extracted, 19 partly extracted, and 15 not extracted. Procedural complications were: torn atrium requiring open heart repair (1), hemothorax requiring a chest tube and blood transfusions (1), subacute hemothorax requiring drainage 18 days after discharge (1), thrombosis treated by drugs (1), and myocardial avulsion without sequela (1). Important observations included the significant training required due to the large number of possible clinical variables, and the need to be prepared for life-threatening cardiovascular complications. With training, procedures done at higher volume and lower volume institutions met with similar success.
Conclusion: Intravascular lead extraction is a viable technique whose benefits outweigh the risks, given the proper intensive training and open heart surgical backup, and may obviate the need for open heart surgery for lead extraction.