In most cases, having a pacemaker won't limit you from doing sports and
exercise, including strenuous activities.
You may need to avoid full-contact sports, such as football. Such contact
could damage your pacemaker or shake loose the wires in your heart. Ask your
doctor how much and what kinds of physical activity are safe for you.
Your doctor will want to check your pacemaker regularly (about every 3
months). Over time, a pacemaker can stop working properly because:
- Its wires get dislodged or broken
- Its battery gets weak or fails
- Your heart disease progresses
- Other devices have disrupted its electrical signaling
To check your pacemaker, your doctor may ask you to come in for an office
visit several times a year. Some pacemaker functions can be checked remotely
through a telephone call or a computer connection to the Internet.
Your doctor also may ask you to have an EKG (electrocardiogram) to check for
changes in your heart's electrical activity.
Pacemaker batteries last between 5 and 15 years (average 6 to 7 years),
depending on how active the pacemaker is. Your doctor will replace the generator
along with the battery before the battery starts to run down.
Replacing the generator/battery is less-involved surgery than the original
surgery to implant the pacemaker. The wires of your pacemaker also may need to
be replaced eventually.
Your doctor can tell you whether your pacemaker or its wires need to be
replaced when you see him or her for followup visits.
Pacemaker At A Glance
- A pacemaker is a small device that's placed in the chest or abdomen to help
control abnormal heart rhythms. This device uses low-energy electrical pulses to
prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.
- Pacemakers are used to treat arrhythmias. Arrhythmias are problems with the
rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too
fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm.
- Pacemakers can relieve some arrhythmia symptoms, such as fatigue
(tiredness) and fainting. A pacemaker also can help a person who has abnormal
heart rhythms resume a more active lifestyle.
- Doctors also treat arrhythmias with implantable cardioverter defibrillators
(ICDs). ICDs are similar to pacemakers. However, besides using low-energy
electrical pulses to control abnormal heart rhythms, ICDs also can use
high-energy electrical pulses to treat certain dangerous arrhythmias.
- Doctors recommend pacemakers for a number of reasons. The most common
reasons are bradycardia and heart block. Bradycardia is a slower than normal
heartbeat. Heart block is a problem that occurs with the heart's electrical
system. The disorder occurs when an electrical signal is slowed or disrupted as
it moves through the heart.
- Before recommending a pacemaker, your doctor will consider any arrhythmia
symptoms you have, such as dizziness, unexplained fainting, or shortness of
breath. He or she also will consider whether you have a history of heart
disease, what medicines you're currently taking, and the results of heart tests.
- A pacemaker consists of a battery, a computerized generator, and wires with
sensors called electrodes on one end. The electrodes detect your heart's
electrical activity and send data through the wires to the computer in the
- If your heart rhythm is abnormal, the computer will direct the generator to
send electrical pulses to your heart. The pulses then travel through the wires
to reach your heart.
- Newer pacemakers also can monitor your blood temperature, breathing, and
other factors and adjust your heart rate to changes in your activity.
- Placing a pacemaker requires minor surgery. The surgery usually is done in
a hospital or special heart treatment laboratory. You'll be given medicine just
before the surgery that will help you relax and may make you sleepy.
- The surgery takes just a few hours, but you'll stay in the hospital
overnight so your health care team can check your heartbeat and make sure your
pacemaker is working properly.
- Complications from pacemaker surgery are rare. Most people can return to
their normal activities within a few days.
- Your doctor may ask you to avoid vigorous exercise or heavy lifting for
about a month after your surgery. After you have fully recovered from surgery,
discuss with your doctor how much and what kinds of physical activity are safe
- Once you have a pacemaker, you have to avoid close or prolonged contact
with electrical devices or devices that have strong magnetic fields. You also
need to avoid certain medical procedures that can disrupt your pacemaker.
- Let all of your doctors, dentists, and medical technicians know that you
have a pacemaker. Your doctor can give you a card that states what kind of
pacemaker you have. Carry this card in your wallet. You may want to consider
wearing a medical ID bracelet or necklace that explains that you have a
- Your doctor will want to check your pacemaker regularly. Some pacemaker
functions can be checked remotely through a telephone call or a computer
connection to the Internet. Your doctor may ask you to come to his or her office
to check your pacemaker.
- Pacemaker batteries last between 5 and 15 years (average 6 to 7 years),
depending on how active your pacemaker is. The wires of your pacemaker also may
need to be replaced eventually. Your doctor can tell you whether your pacemaker
or its wires need to be replaced.
SOURCE: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "Pacemaker."Last Editorial Review: 5/14/2010
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