A pacemaker keeps your heart from beating too slowly. It's important to know how this device works and how to keep it
working right. Learning a few important facts about pacemakers can
help you get the best results from your device.
You may have a device that combines a pacemaker and an implantable
cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), which can shock your heart back to a normal rhythm. For more information on ICDs, see Heart Problems: Living With an ICD.
Avoid strong magnetic and electrical fields.
These can keep your device from working right.
equipment and home appliances are safe to use. Learn which things you should
use with caution and which you should stay away from.
Be sure that
any doctor, dentist, or other health professional you see knows that you have a
Always carry a card in your wallet that tells
what kind of device you have. Wear medical alert jewelry that says you have a
Have your pacemaker checked regularly to
make sure it is working right.
are small electrical devices that help control the timing of your
pacemaker is implanted under the skin of your chest
wall. The pacemaker's wires are passed through a vein into the chambers of your
heart. The pacemaker sends out small electrical pulses that keep your heart from
beating too slowly.
Test Your Knowledge
A pacemaker sends out mild electrical pulses that keep
your heart from beating too slowly.
To be sure that your device is
working right, you will need to have it checked regularly. Pacemakers can stop working because of loose or broken wires or other problems. Your doctor
also will make sure that your pacemaker settings are right for what your body
You may need to go to your doctor's office, or you may be
able to get the device checked over the phone or the Internet.
Pacemakers run on batteries. In most cases, pacemaker batteries last 5 to 15 years. When it's time to replace the
battery, you'll need another surgery, although it will be easier than the
surgery you had to place the device. The surgery is easier, because your doctor doesn't have to replace the leads that go to your heart.
Test Your Knowledge
It's important to have your pacemaker checked
regularly to make sure it is working right.
When you have a pacemaker, it's important to avoid strong magnetic
and electrical fields. The lists below show electrical and magnetic sources and
how they may affect your pacemaker. For best results, follow these
guidelines. These safety tips also apply to devices that combine an ICD and a pacemaker. If you have questions, check with your doctor.
Safety guidelines for pacemakers and ICDs
Stay away from:
CB or ham
High-voltage power lines. Stay at least
25 ft (7.5 m)
An MRI uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures
of organs and structures inside the body.
Use with caution:
Do not carry a cell phone in a
pocket directly over the pacemaker or ICD.
Hold the phone to the
ear on the side away from your device.
Keep a phone at least
6 in. (15 cm) away from the
pacemaker or ICD.
MP3 player headphones:
Do not keep headphones in a chest
pocket. Do not drape headphones over your chest.
Keep the following devices at least
12 in. (30.5 cm) away from the
pacemaker or ICD:
Battery-powered cordless power tools
Magnetic wands used at
Radio transmitters (including
those used in toys)
Safe to use:
Kitchen and bathroom equipment:
Bathroom appliances (electric
razors, curling irons, and hair dryers)
Kitchen appliances (such as
toasters, blenders, electric can openers, and
Microwave, gas, and electric ovens
Other household items:
Electric tools (such as drills and
Lawn and garden equipment (such as mowers and leaf
Heating pads and electric blankets
machines and dryers
Phones (land-line phones including cordless
TVs, VCRs, CD players, DVD
Having medical tests and procedures
Most medical tests and procedures won't affect your pacemaker,
except for MRI, which uses strong magnets. 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.
You can travel safely with a cardiac device. 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.
If you take heart rhythm medicines, take them as
prescribed. The medicines work with your pacemaker to help your heart
keep a steady rhythm.
Pacemakers often are used to improve your ability to
exercise. Talk to your doctor about the type and amount of exercise and other activity you can do.
You may need to limit your activity if you have an irregular heart rate caused by heart failure or
another heart problem.
Don't play contact sports, such as soccer or basketball, because the device can be damaged. Sports such as swimming,
running, walking, tennis, golf, and bicycling are safer.
Stop exercising and call your doctor if you have:
Pressure or pain in your chest, neck, arm,
jaw, or shoulder.
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or
Unusual shortness of breath or tiredness.
A heartbeat that feels unusual for you: too fast, too
slow, or skipping a beat.
Other symptoms that cause you
Most people who have a pacemaker can have an active sex life. After you get a pacemaker implanted, you'll let your chest heal for a short time. If your doctor says that you can exercise and be active, then it's probably safe for you to have sex.
Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns.
When to call a doctor
Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms that could mean your device isn't working properly, such as:
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.
Call your doctor right away 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.
Test Your Knowledge
It's safe to use a cell phone, but don't keep it in a
pocket directly over your pacemaker.
Akoum NW, et al. (2008). Pacemaker therapy. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 1, chap. 7. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
Baddour LM, et al. (2010). Update on cardiovascular implantable electronic device infections and their management. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 121(3): 458–477.
Lee S, et al. (2009). Clinically significant magnetic interference of implanted cardiac devices by portable headphones. Heart Rhythm, 6(10): 1432–1436.
Levine GN, et al. (2012). Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 125(8): 1058–1072.
Sears SF, et al. (2005). How to respond to an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator shock. Circulation, 111(23): e380–e382.
Swerdlow CD, et al. (2012). Pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 745–770. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Wilkoff BL, et al. (2008). HRS/EHRA expert consensus
on the monitoring of cardiovascular implantable electronic devices (CIEDS):
Description of techniques, indications, personnel, frequency and ethical
considerations. Heart Rhythm, 5(6): 907–925. Available
Primary Medical Reviewer
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.