02/12/2013 06:11 pm ET

Pacemaker: Why Did The Pope Have The Device Installed In His Body?

The Pope underwent surgery a few months ago to install a pacemaker in his body, according to news reports.

The Vatican said that the pacemaker did not play a role in 85-year-old Pope Benedict's decision to resign, Reuters reported

There were not many details released as to why Pope Benedict had the pacemaker installed, but most people get them because of an abnormal heart rhythm, a condition called arrhythmia. The Mayo Clinic reported that the heart may beat abnormally because of aging, damage from a heart attack, medications or a genetic condition.

It's important to address an abnormal heartbeat -- whether it's too fast, a condition called tachycardia, or too slow, a condition called bradycardia -- because it can affect how much blood the body receives from the heart, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

A pacemaker works by sending electrical pulses to the heart muscle, The Cleveland Clinic explained. Different types work in different ways, depending on the condition a person has, but generally it's implanted underneath the skin and then hooked up to the heart with wires. The American Heart Association reported that the pacemaker only sends out the electric pulses when necessary, like when the heart is beating abnormally.

The battery that powers a pacemaker usually lasts sometime between five and eight years before it needs to be replaced.

People who have a pacemaker installed can usually lead full, active lives, according to the American Heart Association, though doctors encourage some precautions (such as seeing how much exercise is safe).