Pacemaker: Living Well With It

Overview

A pacemaker helps keep your heart beating normally. By taking a few precautions, you can live the life you wish—doing what you've always done and the things you would like to do. If you are worried about having a pacemaker, talk with your doctor about your concerns.

How do you get the best results from a pacemaker?

Here are a few things you can do to live well with a pacemaker.

  • Use certain electric devices with caution.

    Some electric devices have a strong electromagnetic field. This field can keep your pacemaker from working right for a short time. Check with your doctor about what you need to avoid and what you need to keep a short distance away from your pacemaker. Many household and office electronics do not affect your pacemaker.

  • Keep your regular doctor appointments.

    Your doctor will:

    • Check your pacemaker regularly to make sure it is working right.
    • Check the battery.
    • Contact you about what to do if your device is recalled. The device maker may also do this.

    In between checkups, you may send information from your pacemaker to your doctor. You might do this manually, or your device might do it automatically. Your doctor will give you instructions about how to do this.

  • Call your doctor if an alarm goes off.

    Some pacemakers have an alarm system. The alarm means that your doctor needs to check something on your pacemaker. Your doctor can tell you what your alarm will sound like or feel like. You might hear beeping or feel a vibration. Call your doctor right away if you hear or feel an alarm.

  • If you take heart rhythm medicines, take them as prescribed.

    The medicines work with your pacemaker to help your heart keep a steady rhythm.

  • Drive and travel safely.

    You can drive if you have a pacemaker and you don't have any symptoms such as fainting. But right after you get a pacemaker, your doctor may ask you to not drive for several days after the device is implanted.

    You can travel safely with a pacemaker. But you'll want to be prepared before you go.

    • Bring a list of the names and phone numbers of your doctors.
    • Bring your cardiac device identification card with you.
    • Know what to do when going through airport security.
  • Talk to your other health professionals.

    Many medical tests and procedures won't affect your pacemaker. But some procedures include electromagnetic fields that could affect how your pacemaker works. To be safe:

    • Let your doctors, dentists, and other health professionals know that you have a pacemaker before you have any test, procedure, or surgery.
    • Have your dentist talk to your doctor before you have any dental work or surgery.
    • If you need physical therapy, have the therapist contact your doctor before using ultrasound, heat therapy, or electrical stimulation.
    • If you need an MRI, check with your doctor first. An MRI can be done if you have a pacemaker that is safe for an MRI. If you have another type of pacemaker, the test might be done safely in certain cases, but you will need to talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks.
  • Be active and exercise safely.

    Talk with your doctor about the type and amount of exercise and other activities that are safe for you.

  • Carry a pacemaker identification card and other information with you at all times.
    • The card should include manufacturer information and the model number. Your doctor can give you an ID card.
    • Wear medical alert jewelry stating that you have a pacemaker. You can buy this at most drugstores.
    • Have a list of all the medicines you are taking and your doctor's name and phone number.
  • Know that sex is okay.

    Most people who have a pacemaker can have an active sex life. After you get the device placed, you'll let your chest heal for a short time before having sex again. If your doctor says that you can exercise and be active, then it's probably safe for you to have sex.

  • Make plans for the future.

    In an advance directive, include plans for your pacemaker. You can make the decision to turn off your pacemaker as part of the medical treatment you want at the end of life.

Devices that can affect your pacemaker

Some electric devices have a strong electromagnetic field. This field can keep your pacemaker from working right for a short time. These devices are in your home, garage, workplace, and hospital.

Your doctor or the manufacturer of your pacemaker can give you a full list of what you need to avoid and what you need to keep a short distance away from your pacemaker.

Here are some examples.

Devices to avoid

Avoid devices with strong electromagnetic fields, such as:

  • MRI machines, unless you have a device that is safe in an MRI machine or your doctor says you can safely have an MRI done with your pacemaker.
  • Certain welding equipment.
  • Electronic body-fat scales.

Devices to be cautious around

Keep your pacemaker at least 2 ft (0.6 m) away from:

  • Jumper cables.
  • Table saws.

Keep your pacemaker at least 12 in. (30 cm) away from:

  • Car battery chargers.
  • Ignition systems of gasoline-powered engines or tools.
  • Induction cooktop stoves.
  • CB radios.

Keep your pacemaker at least 6 in. (15 cm) away from:

  • Electronic devices that use wireless technology.
  • Cell phones and smartphones.
  • Tablets and e-readers.
  • Headphones and earbuds.
  • Wearable devices that use wireless technology, such as fitness trackers.
  • Hair dryers.
  • Battery-powered and electric shavers.
  • Vacuum cleaner motors.
  • Small magnets.
  • Electric powered tools such as a drill, lawn mower, or saw.

Do not stand near:

  • Anti-theft detectors in stores.
  • Security systems in airports.

When to call a doctor

Call your doctor now if you have symptoms that could mean your device isn't working properly. These symptoms include the following:

  • Your heartbeat is very fast or slow, skipping, or fluttering.
  • You feel dizzy, lightheaded, or faint.
  • You have shortness of breath that is new or getting worse.
  • You hear an alarm or feel a vibration from your pacemaker.
  • You have hiccups often or for a long time.

Call your doctor now if you think you have an infection near your device. Signs of an infection include:

  • Changes in the skin around your device, such as swelling, warmth, redness, and pain.
  • An unexplained fever.

Credits

Current as of: January 10, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
John M. Miller MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology