Living With Your Pacemaker
If you’re living with an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), your health care professional may have recommended a pacemaker to regulate your heart rate.
You should also do your part to help your pacemaker control your heart rate. For example, if medications are a part of your treatment plan, be sure to take them as prescribed. Medications work with your pacemaker to help regulate your heartbeat.
It’s also good to keep records of what medications you take and when you take them. Download a printable medication tracker (PDF).
View an animation of a pacemaker
Early on with your pacemaker
Before you leave the hospital, your health care team will talk to you about problems to watch out for and things to avoid. You'll also receive a card with information about your pacemaker, when it was placed, its settings, your health care professional and the hospital. You should always carry this card with you.
Make sure you understand your pacemaker’s programmed lower and upper heart rate. Talk to your health care professional about the maximum acceptable heart rate above your pacemaker rate.
For two to three weeks:
- Avoid heavy lifting (over 10 pounds), pushing, pulling or twisting.
- Avoid causing pressure where your pacemaker was implanted.
- Don’t wear clothes that will rub on your incision. Women may want to wear a small pad over the incision to protect from their bra strap.
Also do not lift the arm on the side of the pacemaker above your shoulder for several weeks. Ask your health care professional when it will be safe to do this.
Getting on with your life
Soon after your surgery, you may hardly think about your pacemaker as you go about your day. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations about daily activities.
- Be physically active. Try to do what you enjoy – or what you feel up to – each day. Take a short walk, or simply move your arms and legs to aid blood circulation.
- Don’t overdo it. Quit before you get tired. The right amount of activity should make you feel better, not worse.
- Feel free to take baths and showers after 2 days. Your pacemaker is completely protected against contact with water.
- Car, train or airplane trips should pose no danger.
- Stay away from magnets and strong electrical fields. Learn more about how devices can interfere with ICDs and pacemakers.
- Tell your other doctors, dentists, nurses, medical technicians and other health care professionals that you have a pacemaker.
- Ask your health care professional when you can resume sexual activity.
- Remember your pacemaker when you arrive at the airport or other public places with security screening. Metal detectors won’t damage your pacemaker, but they may detect the metal in your device. At the airport, let the TSA agent know that you have a pacemaker. You may need to undergo a separate security procedure, such as screening with a hand wand.
Download a free pacemaker wallet ID card (PDF). Showing it to personnel at places with metal detectors or other security screening devices may save you some inconvenience.
Checking your device
Your pacemaker should be checked periodically to assess the battery and find out how the wires are working. Be sure to keep your pacemaker checkup appointments. It’s usually every 6 months or one year.
At such appointments:
- Your health care professional will make sure your medications are working and you’re taking them properly.
- You can ask questions and voice any concerns you may have about living with your pacemaker. Make sure you and your caregiver understand what your doctor says. It’s a good idea to take notes.
- Your health care professional will use a special analyzer to reveal the battery’s strength. This diagnostic tool can reveal a weak battery before you notice any changes.
Eventually, the battery may need to be replaced. Pacemaker batteries should last from 6 to 15 years. The replacement procedure is less involved than the original surgery to implant the pacemaker. Your health care professional can tell you about the procedure when the time comes.
Your health care professional may have further instructions. Follow these directions and communicate with your health care team as recommended.
Other causes for concern
Contact your health care team immediately if you:
- Have difficulty breathing.
- Have chest pain.
- Begin to gain weight and your legs and ankles swell.
- Faint or have dizzy spells.
- Have hiccups that don’t go away.
Carry a pacemaker ID card
Carry a card that alerts health care professionals in case you’re unable to tell them about your pacemaker. Keep it in your wallet, purse or phone case so that it’s always with you. Download a printable pacemaker wallet ID card (PDF).
In case of an accident, emergency personnel need to know that you have a pacemaker implanted. For example, medical personnel should know about your pacemaker before ordering diagnostics involving an MRI, which is among the devices that may interfere with your pacemaker.
Also consider an ID bracelet or necklace for added security and convenience.