A pacemaker is a device that can protect you against certain abnormal heart rates and rhythms by constantly monitoring your heart. A pacemaker is able to detect a slow heart rhythm (bradycardia) and produce electrical impulses to increase your heart rate. If your heart rate is too slow, there is not enough blood being pumped out of your heart to meet your body’s needs. This may make you feel tired, weak, lightheaded or short of breath. The goal of a pacemaker is to restore the “normal” heart rate and rhythm.
Usually the pacemaker is implanted in the upper chest area just below the collarbone. The pacemaker is very small in size, in fact most weigh an ounce or less. The pacemaker consists of a pulse generator (a battery and an electrical circuit) and a lead wire. The wire, or pacing lead, is threaded through a vein leading to the heart. The lead carries information about your heart rhythm back to the generator and is used to transmit needed electrical impulses to the heart. Your physician will program the pacemaker to best fit your specific needs. Pacemaker placement takes about two hours and is done in the Electrophysiology (EP) Lab.
Life with your pacemaker
It is important to notify all of your physicians that you have a pacemaker. We can provide further information if there are any questions regarding whether or not you can undergo specific tests due to your pacemaker.
- Driving is allowed after one to six weeks. You will be given instructions about driving at your one-week follow-up appointment.
- Exercise is encouraged. It is important to start slowly and progress gradually. You can check your heart rate by taking your pulse before and after exercise. Be sure to rest when you are tired. Talk with your physician to see what options are best for you.
- Avoid exercise or activity that may result in blunt blows to the pacemaker site, such as contact sports.
- Avoid lifting objects over 10 pounds (groceries, laundry, children, etc.) until six weeks after surgery.
- Avoid activity involving stretching and/or reaching movements for six weeks (such as golf or tennis).
- Avoid swimming for six weeks until the incision is completely healed, to decrease the risk of infections.
- Avoid dental work for three months.
Magnets and electrical devices
Normal use of properly operating household appliances will not damage your pacemaker. Using electric arc welders or working on automobile ignition systems will also not damage your pacemaker but they can interfere with the pacemaker function. If you are using electrical equipment or working around running motors and you become lightheaded or feel palpitations, turn the equipment off or walk away from it. Normal pacemaker function should resume.
After your pacemaker is implanted, you will be followed closely by your physician to ensure that it is working properly. The pacemaker may be re-programmed to fit your changing healthcare needs. Rest assured that examining and adjusting the pacemaker is quick and painless. Your pacemaker will last up to 10 years, depending on how often it is used and how it is programmed. Part of your follow-up care involves checking the battery life of your pacemaker. Your follow-up care will be managed through the pacemaker clinic.