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FAQs About Pacemakers and Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs)

Do cell phones interfere with pacemakers or ICDs?

Cell phones available in the U.S. don't seem to interfere with or damage pacemakers. But try not to keep your cell phone in your breast pocket on the side of the device. And use the phone on the opposite ear. 

Do pacemakers or ICDs need to be adjusted from time to time?

Some devices may need to be adjusted if your health condition or lifestyle changes. Changes are done in the clinic using a device called a programmer. This is a special computer that "talks" with the pacemaker or ICD. This is done using magnetic signals via a "wand" or loop placed over your chest where the device is implanted. Your doctor will tell you about the schedule of follow-up visits you should keep based on your condition and type of device. You may have an assessment using a monitor and telephone line. Or it may be done by an internet connection. Most current ICDs and pacemakers can now be followed remotely. This means the device can send data to your doctor wirelessly.

When replacing a pacemaker or ICD, are the leads also replaced?

If the original leads are working correctly, they will often be left in place and reattached to the new device.

When do I have to replace my pacemaker or ICD?

Most device batteries will last at least 8 to 10 years, depending on use. Biventricular pacemakers/defibrillators often tend to have a shorter battery life. After that time, the battery or pulse generator will need to be replaced. Replacing a pacemaker generator may be done on an outpatient basis. Or you may need to stay overnight in the hospital.

Can I travel with my pacemaker or ICD?

Yes, you can travel by air with your device and drive a car, if cleared by your doctor. Airport security detectors are generally safe. But let airport security staff know you have a pacemaker/ICD and discuss the appropriate screening procedure. If you are selected to be screened by handheld wand, politely remind the screener that these wands should not be held over the device area for more than a few seconds. Always have your ID card with you wherever you go. Some people with ICDs may not be allowed to drive unless cleared by their doctor. For your safety, and the safety of others, your doctor may advise that you don't drive for 6 months after your ICD is implanted, or after an ICD discharge. The life-threatening heart problems that these devices treat can cause you to lose consciousness. This is dangerous if your are driving.

Can I exercise with a pacemaker?

You may be able to exercise with your pacemaker or ICD. But check with your doctor first to make sure the exercise you do will not damage the device.

Will I feel the pacemaker or ICD?

At first, you may feel the weight of the device in your chest. But over time most people get used to it. The device generator is about the size of 2 small silver dollars stacked on top of each other. It weighs no more than an ounce. ICDs are often slightly larger than a pacemaker. If the device feels loose or wiggles in the pocket under the skin, tell your healthcare provider. Extra movement can cause the wire to separate from the generator from the heart muscle. If this happens, the device will not work correctly. If the ICD sends a shock to the heart or "fires," you will feel this as a jolt or kick in the chest.

Sometimes the placement of the ICD wires can stimulate nerves. This can cause your diaphragm to twitch. You may feel a hiccup sensation or twitching of the chest muscles. If this happens, call your healthcare provider.

Can I have an MRI with my pacemaker or ICD?

When you have a pacemaker implanted, stay away from devices with large magnets or magnetic fields that can be created from motors of cars or boats. An MRI is an imaging test used to take images of your body using magnets. Some pacemaker and ICD devices are approved to have an MRI. But always talk with your provider before having this test to make sure it is safe for you. Magnetic fields can be created by other machines and these can affect the normal function of your device. Stay away from high-voltage radar machines such as radio or TV transmitters, electric arc welders, high-tension wires, radar installations, or smelting furnaces. If you have any broken or leftover wire in your body, you won't be able to have an MRI.

Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Quinn Goeringer PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
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