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Arrhythmia and other heart rhythm issues that once diminished the quality and length of life are now treatable and manageable thanks to high-tech and highly impactful pacing devices. After living with the physical limitations of a heart rhythm disorder, as well as the mental anxiety and emotional fears it can cause, a pacemaker can give you a whole new lease on life!

Your heart is now beating as it should, so the last thing you need is to be worrying about this mini-computer in your chest. There is no need to stress because once implanted and the surgical site healed, your pacemaker should not impact your overall daily or physical activities. From traveling, to exercising, to enjoying your favorite alcoholic beverage (responsibly), living with a pacemaker does not mean you have to live less!

Let us alleviate any concerns by answering some common questions with the facts (and bust some myths) of how a pacemaker can affect your daily activities.

Will Shoulder Straps Affect My Pacemaker?

It is true that as a pacemaker recipient you may experience strap struggles, bra adjustments, and seatbelt woes. However, none of these discomforts should last long term.

In the first weeks after your implantation surgery, you will want to keep your pacemaker incision area clean and limit your left arm and side movements to doctor-instructed exercises (like shoulder rolls), so you can properly heal and avoid long term discomfort. This includes avoiding upper arm movements like reaching upward, hanging things, or stretching the arm upward. Similarly, reaching for and connecting straps over your left shoulder and across your chest (like seat belts, bra straps, purse straps and backpacks) can cause discomfort and should be handled gently.

While you should be able to drive your car after a week, you may find that the seat belt crossing over your left shoulder and chest bothers your incision site. You can buy a padded seat belt cover for your car to give yourself some extra cushion and comfort, or you can DIY one using a folded towel or small blanket placed between your pacemaker incision site and the seat belt.

Similarly, you may find that your bra is more uncomfortable than usual after your pacemaker implantation surgery. Consider getting a strap pad that you can easily attach to your bra strap for extra cushioning. Changing your bra style for a few weeks after your surgery (like to a sports bra or strapless bra) can keep you comfortable as you heal. If the act of simply putting on your bra is causing discomfort, you may want to go braless and opt for a camisole or undershirt instead.

Throwing on a backpack is also something you want to avoid in the first weeks after your surgery. Additionally, you want to avoid any heavy lifting (over 10 pounds), like a bag of groceries, small suitcase, or strapping on an overstuffed backpack. When you are ready to backpack again, opt for one with wider, padded straps for extra comfort. If you use your backpack for work, this could be a good time to invest in a messenger bag you can put over your opposite shoulder or get a wheeled backpack or briefcase. You may even be able to get your employer to compensate you since the new bag is needed for medical reasons.

When it comes to strapping on your favorite bra or backpack, or strapping yourself into your car, these discomforts and concerns typically only last for the first eight to 12 weeks after your pacemaker implantation surgery. However, some people do experience minor discomfort and pain around their incision site long term. If that turns out to be the case for you, investing in padded seat belt covers, bra strap pads, and even alternative bra and bag styles can go a long way in keeping you comfortable and pain free.

Can I Sleep on My Side with a Pacemaker?

Like with any surgery, you may find comfort and sleep allusive right after your pacemaker implantation. It is best to avoid sleeping on the side where the pacemaker was implanted (typically the left side) in the weeks following your surgery. Stomach sleepers can also experience discomfort. Sleeping on your back or on your opposite side is usually more comfortable until your incision heals, and you adjust to the “feeling” of your device.

This new feeling can include pacemaker “tapping.” Depending on how you lie, the pacemaker can come into closer contact with your chest muscles or skin. This physical contact can translate the electrical pulses from the pacemaker into a “tapping” sensation you can feel. Certain sleeping positions can put pressure on the pacemaker or its leads, amplifying the sensation of the pulses. Most people do adjust and find their comfy, sound sleeping position with no pain or discomfort within eight to 12 weeks after the implantation surgery.

However, if you continue to experience discomfort, pressure, or “tapping” around the pacemaker site, adjusting how you sleep may be necessary. This could be adopting a different sleeping position, adding or changing pillows, or sleeping with a body pillow that can support you and prevent you from rolling over. If trying to train your body to sleep in a different position, remember that you may start on your back or right side but can end up on your left side or stomach as you move in your sleep. To help you sleep more soundly with less restless movement, make your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment—lower the temperature, make the room quieter using sound machines or apps, make the room darker with black out curtains and put away any blue light electronics well before bedtime.

Rest easy because you should sleep soundly with your pacemaker.

Can I Soak in the Hot Tub if I Have a Pacemaker?

You have probably seen the signs at resort and community hot tubs warning those with heart issues to use with caution. That is because prolonged soaking in the bubbling hot water (100°F to 104°F is the average temperature of a hot tub) increases the core body temperature, which puts extra stress on the cardiovascular system, including increasing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and altering circulation and blood flow. All this can exacerbate existing heart conditions, like hypertension, arrhythmia, coronary artery disease, heart failure, or a history of heart attack.

While using a hot tub, watch for any of these signs or symptoms that your heart could be in distress:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness (signs of low blood pressure)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

As someone with a heart rhythm disorder and pacing device, pay special attention to any heartbeat or heart rate changes while you are in a hot tub. Increased heat and temperature changes can trigger irregular heartbeats and interfere with your pacemaker’s efforts to regulate your heartbeat.

Some pacemaker recipients have reported experiencing “spasms” or tingling sensations while in a hot tub. Changes in heart rate and rhythm and your pacemaker’s efforts to regulate them could create a feeling or sensation of “spasms.” While rare, electrical interference from the hot tub’s electrical system could affect your pacemaker and cause the tingling “spasms.” Also, be mindful of the hot tub’s jets, as allowing them to apply direct pressure at or around your pacemaker site could cause discomfort or even those “spasm” sensations. It is best to avoid the jets at the site of your pacemaker.

You can continue to enjoy a good soak in the hot tub with precautions:

  • Do not soak in the hot tub for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Keep the water temperature below 100°F.
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
  • Enter and exit the hot tub slowly, as rapid temperature changes can cause your blood pressure to fluctuate.

Is It Still Safe to Use My Household Appliances and Electronics if I Have a Pacemaker?

There is no reason to suddenly fear walking into your kitchen, doing yard work, or going to the barber shop. You can still use your common household appliances and small electronics with a pacemaker. The key is keeping certain devices a “safe distance” away from your pacemaker. That is because on rare occasions, some devices may interfere with your pacemaker’s electronic signals.

To lessen the risk of this electromagnetic interference, it is best to keep any devices with motors, antennae, Bluetooth, and/or magnets at least six to12 inches away from your pacemaker site. It is doubtful you will be using your microwave or even your hair dryer this close—do not hover over your microwave while it cooks and keep the hair dryer up by your head. But you may be using some devices closer to your chest (and pacemaker site) than you realize.

If you prefer a close shave and trim, there is no reason to retire your electric razors, whether you are shaving at home or at a barber shop. However, an electric razor should not be placed directly over the pacemaker site. If you are a “manscaper” who regularly shaves or grooms your chest with an electric razor, you may want to do it carefully or switch to a manual razor for shaving around your pacemaker area.

Your cell phone, smart watch, earbuds, and Bluetooth-enabled devices should all be kept at least six inches away from your pacemaker site. If you wear your smart watch on your left wrist, think about how often (and how close) you bring it up towards your pacemaker site (typically the left chest), especially while exercising. If you stow your phone and/or wireless earbuds in your left breast pocket, you may want to put them in your pants’ pocket instead. Additionally, if your smartphone, smart watch, or other “smart” wireless device has wireless charging capabilities, you’ll want to keep it at least 12 inches away from your pacemaker when it is charging wirelessly or being stored. The wireless charging technology utilizes powerful magnets that may interfere with or even disrupt your pacemaker’s functionality.

You will also want to keep higher-powered, motorized devices (think cordless power tools, leaf blowers and edgers) at least 12 inches away from your pacemaker. If you are a gear head who works on anything with a motor, it is best to keep all motor-generated systems and welding equipment at least 24 inches away from your pacemaker site. Turning off motors while you’re working on them is best to ensure there’s no electromagnetic interference.

Again, most of the tools, electronics, and appliances you use every day should pose little risk to your pacemaker; just be mindful of how closely you are using them. If you have any concerns about which devices could affect your pacemaker and how, the American Heart Association has assembled this guide. Additionally, you should have received a list or instructions on what devices you can and cannot use specific to your pacemaker. If you have any questions about certain devices to use or avoid, talk to your cardiologist or electrophysiologist.

A pacemaker can help you live life to the fullest! But for millions in developing countries, these life-saving devices are out of reach. You can help hearts in need around the world live their healthiest with the gift of a life-saving pacemaker. See how you can support the ForHearts mission through our donation opportunities.