If you’re living with an arrhythmia (erratic heartbeat), your doctor 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 for arrhythmia work with your pacemaker and help to 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.
Early on with your pacemaker
After you have your pacemaker implanted, your doctor will go over detailed restrictions and precautions. Make sure that you and your caregiver fully understand these instructions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Before you leave the hospital, be sure to understand your pacemaker’s programmed lower and upper heart rate. Talk to your doctor about the maximum acceptable heart rate above your pacemaker rate.
Other considerations include:
- Allow about eight weeks for your pacemaker to settle firmly in place. During this time, try to avoid sudden movements that would cause your arm to pull away from your body.
- Avoid causing pressure where your pacemaker was implanted. Women may want to wear a small pad over the incision to protect from their bra strap.
- Relatively soon after your surgery, you may be able to perform all normal activities for a person of your age. Ask your doctor about how and when to increase activity.
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 remember your doctor’s recommendations about daily activities. Bear in mind:
- 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. 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 hospital staff members that you have a pacemaker.
- People with pacemakers can continue their usual 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. Showing it to personnel at places with metal detectors or other security screening devices may save you some inconvenience.
Checking in on your device
Modern pacemakers are built to last. Still, 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. At such appointments:
- Your doctor will make sure your medications are working and that 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 doctor 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 in a surgical procedure. This replacement procedure is less involved than the original surgery to implant the pacemaker. Your doctor can tell you about the procedure when the time comes.
Your doctor may recommend that you take and record your pulse often to gauge your heart rate. This allows both of you to compare your heart rate to your acceptable range to determine if your pacemaker is working effectively.
When taking your pulse at home, follow your doctor’s instructions about when to get in touch. In general, there’s no reason to contact your doctor unless:
- Your heart is beating faster than 100 beats per minute.
- Your heart rate suddenly drops below the accepted rate.
- Your heart rate increases dramatically.
- Your pulse is rapid and irregular (above 120 beats per minute) and your pacemaker is programmed for a fast-slow type of heartbeat.
- You notice a sudden slowing of your heart rate.
Don’t worry if your heart is beating close to or within the intended heart rate, but has an occasional irregularity. It likely just means that your heart’s natural pacemaker is competing with the signals emitted by the artificial pacemaker. This occurs infrequently, but it’s normal.
Other causes for concern
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.
Carry a pacemaker ID card
Carry a card that alerts healthcare workers 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.
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.
You can also consider an ID bracelet or necklace for added security and convenience.