Living With a Pacemaker: What to Avoid

Take a few simple precautions, and life should be virtually normal

A pacemaker is a small electronic device that is implanted under the skin to help regulate the heart rhythm. Most pacemakers are implanted to treat symptoms resulting from bradycardia (slow heart rate) caused by sick sinus syndrome or heart block.

Having a pacemaker is supposed to eliminate or prevent problems, not cause them. That's generally the case, but there are things to avoid with a pacemaker once you begin living with one.

This article presents a few simple precautions to consider as you follow your healthcare provider's guidance and a routine schedule for periodic follow-up care.

Heart pacemaker in cardiologist's hand
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

After Pacemaker Implantation

Pacemaker implantation is minimally invasive surgery. The typical recovery period is not lengthy or difficult. You may experience pain at the incision site for a few days.

Your healthcare provider may ask you to restrict vigorous activity or lifting heavy objects for a week or two. The incision site is usually completely healed after two or three weeks, and you should have no further restrictions.

During this initial period, you should watch for signs of bleeding or infection, such as:

  • Swelling
  • Increased redness
  • Worsening pain

Let your healthcare provider know if any of these signs occur. Fortunately, these complications are infrequent.

You will need to have your pacemaker checked periodically to make sure it is functioning normally and its battery has plenty of energy. Usually, these pacemaker checks can be done from home, wirelessly, using a special device your healthcare provider will give you for remote follow-up.

You will also be checked in your healthcare provider's office once or twice a year.

When the battery begins to run out, usually after five to 10 years, your healthcare provider will schedule an elective pacemaker replacement. This is a relatively simple procedure, carried out under local anesthesia, in which your old pacemaker generator is detached from its leads and thrown away.

A new generator is then attached and the incision is sewn up. Generally, the pacemaker leads never need to be replaced unless they develop a problem.

Precautions to Take

Contrary to popular belief, modern home appliances, including microwave ovens, do not interfere with pacemakers and should not cause any concern whatsoever. With certain other devices, there are only a few special precautions you will need to take to avoid problems like electromagnetic interference (EMI).

Cellular Telephones

Cellular phones, if held close to the pacemaker (which may happen if the phone is kept in a breast pocket) can potentially affect the function of a pacemaker. But as long as the phone is kept 6 inches or more away from the pacemaker there should not be a problem.

Magnets

Similar to cell phones, magnets can affect a pacemaker if they are brought to within 6 inches or so. Simply keep magnets away from your pacemaker.

Anti-Theft Detectors

The walk-through anti-theft detectors in stores work by generating electromagnetic waves, which can momentarily interfere with the function of a pacemaker. However, as long as you walk through the detector normally, without stopping or pausing, you should not experience any problems. Just keep moving.

Airport Security Metal Detectors

Your pacemaker may set off the walk-through metal detector commonly used in airport security. The metal detector will not affect your pacemaker.

But a potential problem is the hand-held scanner the security agent may use on you after you set off the metal detector. The hand-held scanner contains a magnet that may interfere with your pacemaker when it is brought near.

Before you go through airport security, you should tell the agent that you have a pacemaker and that they should not use the hand-held scanner near your pacemaker.

Airport Security Full-Body Scanners

The full-body scanners at airports (the devices that make an image of your body) apparently will not affect your pacemaker, but there is surprisingly little objective evidence available on this issue. 

Arc Welders and Chainsaws

Unlike household appliances, arc welders and chainsaws are powerful enough to interfere with the function of your pacemaker. People with pacemakers should avoid using this equipment.

Radiation Therapy

The powerful radiation used in radiation therapy for cancer can damage the circuits of a pacemaker. If you need radiation therapy, your pacemaker will need to be specially shielded to protect it from the radiation field.

Other Medical Procedures

Pacemakers can also be affected by other medical procedures. These include:

  • Lithotripsy, which uses sound waves to treat gallstones or kidney stones
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve/muscle stimulators (TENS), which are used for pain control
  • Electrocautery, used during surgery to control bleeding
  • Diathermy, where electromagnetic radiation or microwaves are used to heat tissues

In general, it makes good sense to remind any of your healthcare providers that you have a pacemaker before they do any medical procedure.

Lifestyle Changes

Despite what may seem a long list of things to avoid with a pacemaker, there are minimal lifestyle changes you'll need to make in the day-to-day. All of your normal activities, such as doing yard work, bathing, and having sex, should continue on as before.

If you want to return to exercise and playing sports, be sure to do so only on the advice of your healthcare provider.

There aren't really specific foods to avoid with a pacemaker itself. But if you have one it's because you have a heart condition, and that diagnosis means you need to adopt a heart-healthy diet. These diet changes focus on limiting red meat, many dairy products, and unhealthy fats, while adding whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Can I Drink Alcohol if I Have a Pacemaker?

Moderate drinking doesn't appear to be harmful for people with some heart conditions. That said, people with certain heart arrhythmias or a history of heart failure should avoid drinking alcohol. A history of arrhythmia is common in people who have pacemakers, so talk to your healthcare provider about alcohol use.

A Word From Verywell

Pacemakers are supposed to improve or maintain your lifestyle, not limit it. And for the most part, this is what happens. Once you recover from the implantation surgery, none of the precautions you need to take are particularly burdensome, and you won't encounter most of them during your daily life.

For the most part, once your pacemaker is implanted, you can go through your normal life without ever thinking about it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you run with a pacemaker?

    Follow your healthcare provider's recommendations about exercise. You'll likely need to limit activity for a few weeks after surgery while your incision heals. Afterwards, if your healthcare provider says it's OK, you should be able to resume your normal level of activity.

  • What is the life expectancy of a person with a pacemaker?

    A pacemaker can help you to live a normal life span. A 2015 study found that the life expectancy for pacemaker patients is similar to the life expectancy for the general population.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kotsakou M, Kioumis I, Lazaridis G, et al. Pacemaker insertion. Ann Transl Med. 2015;3(3):42. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2305-5839.2015.02.06

  2. American Heart Society. Devices that may interfere with ICDs and pacemakers.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Living with a Pacemaker or ICD.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Alcohol and Heart Health.

  5. American Heart Association. Living with your pacemaker.

  6. Bradshaw P, Stobie P, Knuiman M, Briffa T, Hobbs M. Life expectancy after implantation of a first cardiac permanent pacemaker (1995–2008): A population-based studyInt J Cardiol. 2015;190:42-46. doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2015.04.099

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