Living With Your Pacemaker

Updated:Dec 21,2016
Watch a pacemaker animation
Modern pacemakers are built to last. But as with any electronic device, they require some care. Do your part to help your pacemaker manage your heart rhythm. View an animation of a pacemaker

Learn about living with your pacemaker

Understand your heart rate avoid unnecessary worry
  • Before you leave the hospital, discuss with your doctor the specific maximum acceptable heart rate above your pacemaker rate.
  • Discuss the programmed lower and upper rate for your pacemaker.
  • A sudden, major slowing down of your heart rate, which you may detect, probably indicates a more serious problem. If that occurs, call your doctor.
Monitor and record your heart rate check that your heart is pumping correctly.
  • Take and record your pulse as often as your healthcare professional recommends.
  • Place your index and middle fingers on the inside of opposite wrist or over the artery in your neck just below the jaw.
  • Feel for the beat (pulse).
  • Count the number of beats for one full minute and write it down.
  • Compare it to the acceptable range from your healthcare professional.
  • Follow your healthcare professional's instructions or these guidelines for when to call:
    • If your pacemaker is beating regularly and at or above its proper rate, it's OK.
    • If your pulse is beating faster than you've noticed before — but below 100 beats per minute — don't be alarmed.
    • If your heart is beating close to or within the accepted rate but has an occasional irregularity, don't worry. Every now and then your own heart's natural pacemaker competes with the man-made one. Some extra beats that the pacemaker can sense electrically won't result in a pulse that you can feel.
    • If your pulse rate suddenly drops below the accepted rate or increases dramatically, call your healthcare provider immediately and follow his or her instructions. It may be possible to program your pacemaker so it resumes working normally, or there may be some other problem.
    • If your pacemaker is installed for a fast-slow type of heartbeat and your pulse is rapid and irregular (above 120 beats per minute), call your healthcare provider for more instructions.
Take medications

...exactly as instructed.
Follow activity instructions

  • Follow activity restrictions and recommendations from your healthcare professional.
  • Allow about eight weeks for your pacemaker to settle firmly in place. During this time, avoid sudden, jerky or violent actions that will cause your arm to pull away from your body.
  • Car, train or airplane trips should pose no danger.
  • Be physically active every day. Do whatever you enjoy - take a short walk or just move your arms and legs to help your circulation.
  • Ask your healthcare professional about how and when to increase activity.
  • You may be able to perform all normal activities for a person of your age.
  • Don't overdo it — quit before you get tired. The proper amount of activity should make you feel better, not worse.
Carry your pacemaker ID card

Don't leave home without it.
  • Download a printable pacemaker ID card.
  • In case of accident so emergency personnel can treat you appropriately.
  • Security devices in public places may detect the metal in your pacemaker, although they won't damage it. Showing your card may save you some inconvenience.
Keep pacemaker checkup appointments

  • To work properly, your pacemaker should be checked periodically to find out how the leads are working and how the battery is doing.
  • Show your pulse records to your healthcare provider.
  • Make sure medications are working as they should and you're taking them properly.
  • Ask questions and discuss your concerns. Make sure you understand your condition and all instructions.
Personal care

  • Avoid causing pressure over the area of your chest where your pacemaker was put in.
  • Women may find it more comfortable to wear a small pad over the incision as protection from their bra strap.
  • Feel free to take baths and showers. Your pacemaker is completely protected against contact with water.
  • People with pacemakers can continue their usual sexual activity.
Battery maintenance

As they wear down, your pacemaker will slow but won't stop right away.
  • Your doctor uses a special analyzer to detect the first warning that the batteries are running down, before you can detect any changes yourself.
  • Sudden, major slowing down of your heart rate (which you may detect) probably indicates a more serious problem. Call your doctor immediately.
  • Eventually your pacemaker will need to be replaced in a minor surgical procedure. Your healthcare provider can explain it to you.
When to call your healthcare provider

Contact your doctor immediately if:
  • You have difficulty breathing.
  • You begin to gain weight and your legs and ankles swell.
  • You faint or have dizzy spells.
  • Your pulse rate suddenly drops below the accepted rate or increases dramatically
  • Your pacemaker is installed for a fast-slow type of heartbeat and your pulse is rapid and irregular (above 120 beats per minute).  

This content was last reviewed September 2016.


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