6 Mistakes People Make With Pacemakers

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Lorna Collier on September 18, 2020
  • Healthy senior woman
    Avoid common pacemaker blunders to keep your ticker ticking properly.
    Your pacemaker can help you feel better—getting rid of uncomfortable symptoms like dizziness and breathlessness—while potentially saving your life. But pacemakers also require you to take certain precautions and actions in order for them to work successfully. Most of the errors that pacemaker patients make come from failing to follow instructions and neglecting to learn key steps. If you can keep from making these typical pacemaker mistakes, your pacemaker has the best chance of working well—and you will feel better as a result.
  • Couple relaxing on couch in living room
    1. Not following post-surgical pacemaker instructions.
    It can take up to two months for your pacemaker to settle into the pocket your surgeon makes for it inside your body (usually near your collarbone). Your doctor likely will advise you during this recovery period to avoid any sudden movements that pull your arm away from your body on the side in which your pacemaker has been inserted. Strenuous activity and full-contact sports like football should be avoided. You don't want to dislodge your pacemaker or break the wires that connect it to your heart. Your pacemaker doctor—a cardiac electrophysiologist—will give you advice about how best to protect your device.
  • Male patient talking to female doctor who is holding tablet
    2. Not making or going to pacemaker checkup appointments.
    After your pacemaker implantation procedure, your doctor will want to see you regularly—usually every three to six months or so—to make sure everything with this vital device is working well. Your doctor will analyze the pacemaker's battery strength and evaluate your heart rate settings to see if an adjustment is necessary. Depending on which type of pacemaker you have, you may be able to transmit data by phone or computer as well. Your pacemaker doctor will give you guidance on how often you need make an appointment.
  • Older woman looking at empty prescription bottle with phone in other hand
    3. Not taking your heart medication as often as you should, or at all.
    Sure, you have a pacemaker to help control your heart rhythm. You may think that means you don’t need your heart medications anymore. But this is a mistake. Your doctor sets your pacemaker with your medical condition—including heart medication you take—in mind. Continue taking the medicines your doctor prescribes and closely follow instructions for taking them. It's also good to keep a record of your medications and bring the record (or the bottles themselves) to your checkups. Some people write them down on a card or in notebook, but you can also record them on a printable medication tracking app.
  • Middle aged man at laptop holding head with headache or fatigue
    4. Ignoring signs that something could be wrong.
    You should regularly monitor your pulse at home to make sure your pacemaker is performing as it should. Your doctor will tell you heart rate benchmarks, such as the top and bottom heart rate levels your pacemaker is programmed for, as well as other specific warning signs to watch for. While occasional irregularities are normal, symptoms that usually warrant a call to your doctor include a heart rate faster than 100 beats per minute; sudden dropping or slowing of your heart rate; heart rate that increases dramatically; and irregular pulse or palpitations. Feeling dizzy, short of breath, or faint are other warnings. Also call your doctor if your pacemaker feels loose.
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    5. Discounting warnings about electrical interference.
    We live in a world with an increasing number of electronic devices and electromagnetic fields, from smartphones to security scanners and many more. Your doctor will have information about which to avoid. In general, smartphones, MP3 players, and magnetized headphones are okay, but need to be kept at least six inches from your pacemaker. Security scanners at stores and airports are safe so long as exposure is brief and minimal. Similarly, keep exposure to overhead high-tension power lines, transformers, and TV and radio transmitters to a minimum, as these can interfere with your pacemaker’s function.
  • Female imaging technician smiling at patient about to get MRI or CT scan
    6. Not telling medical providers about your pacemaker.
    Certain medical procedures, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), can interfere with the ability of your pacemaker to regulate your heart rate. Other medical procedures—such as a mammogram—might put pressure on the pacemaker site. Always tell health providers you have a pacemaker—not just doctors and nurses, but also dentists, medical technicians, physical therapists, and others who have physical contact with your body. Carry a pacemaker ID card or medical alert bracelet with information about your pacemaker in case you need emergency care.
6 Mistakes People Make With Pacemakers

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 18
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.