Pacemakers Living With a Pacemaker

A pacemaker can improve daily life for many people. Once you have a pacemaker, you will need regular doctor visits to check your health condition and the pacemaker.

Carry your pacemaker ID card with you for emergencies. Show it to airport security, new doctors, or other people who need to know about your device. The card should have information on the type of pacemaker and leads you have, when you got the pacemaker, and your doctor’s contact information. 

Get your pacemaker checked

You may need to visit your doctor several times a year to check your pacemaker. In between visits, your doctor may be able to check that the battery and wires are still working. 

You may also need to come in if your doctor needs to reprogram the pacemaker. You can check with your doctor regularly about device software updates and upgrades. 

Avoid devices that interfere with pacemakers

If you have a pacemaker, avoid close or prolonged contact with electrical devices or devices that have strong magnetic fields. These devices can disrupt the electrical signaling of your pacemaker and stop it from working properly. You may not be able to tell when this happens. 

To be safe, keep your pacemaker at least 6 inches away from such devices or only use them briefly, when needed. 

  • Cell phones. Use your speaker phone setting or hold the cell phone to the ear on the opposite side of your body. For example, if you have an ICD on the left side of your chest, hold your cell phone to your right ear. Avoid putting your cell phone in your shirt pocket. 
  • Electronic cigarettes 
  • Headphones. Most headphones have a magnet in them. Wear them as far away from your pacemaker as possible. Do not carry your headphones in a chest pocket. 
  • Household appliances, such as microwave ovens, major appliances, electric blankets, and heating pads are usually safe if they are working properly. 
  • Metal detectors, such as those used for airport security. The risk of harm is low, but your device may set off the metal detector. Body scanners used at airports appear to be safe for people with pacemakers, but you can show your ID card and ask for a separate screening. 

If something disrupts your pacemaker, step away from whatever is disturbing it to help your pacemaker return to normal. Talk to your doctor right away about what else to avoid, as any kind of powerful electrical or industrial equipment can interfere with your pacemaker. This includes welding machines or electric fences for pets. 

Medical and dental procedures that can affect your pacemaker include: 

  • Electrocautery used during surgery to stop blood vessels from bleeding 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Microwave diathermy for physical therapy 
  • Radiation therapy to treat cancer 
  • Shock-wave lithotripsy to treat kidney stones 
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to treat pain 

The effects depend on what type of device you have. Always tell your doctor or dentist that you have a pacemaker and show them the device ID card. They may be able to make certain changes if you need the procedure or test. 

Learn how to manage problems with your pacemaker

It is important to pay attention to any changes or unusual patterns in your pacemaker. Call your doctor if you think there is a problem. 

  • Know what to do if the device stops working. Pacemakers usually last for several years, but a part or the entire device may need to be replaced. Call your doctor immediately if you think your pacemaker may not be working properly. If it’s not working, you may start feeling short of breath, dizzy, or faint. 
  • Know your options and rights. You have the right to request the pacemaker be turned off or removed if it is no longer beneficial. For example, you may wish to turn it off if you are seriously ill or nearing the end of life. Discuss your options and plans with your healthcare team, caregivers, and loved ones. Your doctor may have you take part in an ethics consultation first to make sure you understand the risks. Visit the National Institute on Aging’s Making Decisions for Someone at the End of Life for more information. 
  • Software updates. Talk to your doctor about how to regularly check for software updates that make the pacemaker more secure from hacking. When you visit the doctor, ask whether the manufacturer has announced any problems with your device. 
  • Watch for signs of infection. Signs include fever, chills, and pain or redness where the pacemaker was placed. You may get these symptoms 6 months or more after surgery. 
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