Find your rhythm: Tips for living with a pacemaker
If you've been told you need a pacemaker to help regulate your heart rate and rhythm, you may be wondering if you can continue living your life as usual or whether you'll need to avoid certain activities.
Implantable pacemakers treat atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) by sending electrical impulses from a generator to the heart. These bursts of electricity prompt the heart to beat normally. Some pacemakers have wires that carry electrical impulses to the heart, and others transmit these impulses wirelessly.
For people with pacemakers, these devices can enhance their quality of life by allowing them to do the things they love, but they can also prompt questions about how life might change. Let's dig into some tips for living with a pacemaker.
Living with a pacemaker shouldn't be difficult.
First things first: Most people with a pacemaker can lead a normal life. Living with a pacemaker does require additional medical attention and extra care to avoid certain activities and devices, which you can read about below. Other than that, you'll be able to lead an active, fulfilling life.
Your provider will likely place some restrictions on your level of activity for the first few weeks after pacemaker implantation. During this time, you should avoid certain movements, including pushing, pulling, and twisting. Lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds is also out of bounds. Don't press anything against the part of your chest where your pacemaker sits under the skin.
After two or three weeks, your provider may clear you to resume regular activities, including exercise, which can help you maintain your heart health. Be sure to ask your provider what activities are appropriate for you, and don't push yourself beyond your limits. You should also ask your provider when it's appropriate to resume sexual activity.
You can do nearly all your regular activities with a pacemaker, including work and travel. Eventually, your pacemaker will, for the most part, fade into the background of your life.
Keep an eye out for signs of infection after pacemaker implantation.
Like any medical procedure, pacemaker implantation carries the risk of infection, even as late as six months or more after you receive the device, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). How can you tell if you might have an implantation-related infection while living with a pacemaker? Look for:
- Pain or redness where your provider placed the pacemaker
Commit to regular checkups while living with a pacemaker.
Part of living with a pacemaker is taking steps to ensure its upkeep. Pacemakers are remarkable devices, but like all machines, they may require adjustment, develop problems, or need replacement parts. That's why it's important to see your provider to get your pacemaker checked at least once a year, if not more often.
During the assessment, your provider can see if the pacemaker needs reprogramming and check the health of the battery and wires. Your device may need a new battery every six to 15 years, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
If your pacemaker malfunctions between clinic visits, it's important to know the signs so you can tell your provider right away and get the issue fixed. A non-working pacemaker can make you feel dizzy or short of breath.
Mind future medical procedures.
While living with a pacemaker, it's important to carry a card with your device's settings and the date you received it, as well as your provider's contact information, wherever you go. Any time you see a new provider, you'll need to show them the card and inform them about your pacemaker.
Why is it important to keep all of your providers in the loop about your pacemaker? Certain medical procedures may interfere with the device, including:
- Electrocautery — the use of heat from an electrode to stop bleeding or destroy tissue during surgery
wave lithotripsy — a
treatment that uses shock waves to break up kidney stones
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation — a pain-relieving treatment that uses a device to send electrical signals through the skin to areas of discomfort
Radiation therapy to treat cancer may also affect your pacemaker. In addition, certain types of imaging, including MRI and CT, can disrupt pacemakers. Your provider can determine whether a procedure or imaging test poses a risk to your pacemaker and, if so, what alternative treatments or scans may be available to you.
Exercise caution around certain devices while living with a pacemaker.
One of the most common issues you may have heard about living with a pacemaker is how it affects the procedure for going through a metal detector at airports, ballparks, and other events. Fortunately, metal detectors pose little threat to your pacemaker's function, but the device contains metal that may set off the detector. Be sure to tell the person running the metal detector about your pacemaker and show them your pacemaker card. They may be able to offer an alternative screening method.
A variety of devices can affect pacemakers, which leads many people to wonder what's safe to use and what they should avoid. What about household appliances, for example? According to the NHLBI, microwave ovens and other major appliances are safe for people with pacemakers, provided the appliances are in good working condition.
People with pacemakers should take precautions around certain devices, including:
- Cell phones. These devices' wireless frequencies may interfere with your pacemaker. It's OK to use a cell phone if you have a pacemaker, but you should hold it to the ear on the opposite side of your body from your pacemaker or use the speakerphone setting.
- Headphones. Headphones contain magnets
that can affect pacemakers. The AHA recommends keeping headphones at least six
inches away from a pacemaker.
- Magnets. Machines containing magnets can produce strong magnetic fields. Don't allow magnet-containing devices to come into close contact with your pacemaker.
By taking steps to minimize contact with items that could affect your pacemaker, you can help ensure you and your heart can keep relying on the device.
Find out how the experts at the Reid Health Heart & Vascular Center can help you manage your heart health.