How common are pacemaker procedures? More common than you think. An estimated 1.14 million to 1.25 million pacemakers are implanted annually worldwide, and those numbers are expected to grow to 1.43 million pacemaker implantations in 2023.
The most common reason for a pacemaker is arrhythmia, meaning the heart has an abnormal rhythm. Approximately one in 18 people, or 5 percent of the U.S. population has an arrhythmia, with one in four adults over the age of 40 projected to develop an irregular heartbeat, according to Scripps Health.
There’s a good chance that you know or will know someone who has a pacemaker. In fact, that someone could be you!
So, what is it like to live with a pacemaker? Here are eight tips for living life to the fullest as a pacemaker recipient.
1. Stay Physically Active
In the long term, your pacemaker should not impact your physical activity. You may notice some difference in your physical stamina, particularly the first two to three months after receiving your pacemaker as it works to regulate your heart rate and rhythm. When it comes to easing back into physical activity with a pacemaker, the American Heart Association recommends:
· Do what you enjoy and feel up to each day.
· Don’t overdo it. The right amount of activity should make you feel better, not worse. So quit before you get tired.
Bottom line: Be physically active because it is important for your heart. Even simple exercise, like taking a short walk around your neighborhood, can help increase blood circulation and support your heart health.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Getting enough physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight, important for living with a pacemaker. Being overweight can make your heart (and therefore your pacemaker) work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Additionally, being overweight can raise blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels—all of which are bad for your pacemaker-powered heart.
To maintain a healthy weight, focus on your body mass index (BMI), the ratio of your weight in relation to your height. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 kg/m² indicates a normal weight, according to the American Heart Association. Check your BMI online with this BMI calculator from the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
3. Eat a Heart Healthy Diet
As a pacemaker recipient, you should focus on eating a heart healthy diet. That means a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean, low-fat protein, while limiting your intake of unhealthy (saturated) fats, sodium, and added sugars.
Looking for a starting place with your diet? Try these heart-focused options:
· The DASH eating plan, which stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.”
· The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet, developed by the National Institutes of Health to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, promote optimal cholesterol levels and a healthy weight.
· The Mediterranean Diet, which has been found to reduce the overall risk of heart disease in numerous studies.
4. Traveling with a Pacemaker
After receiving a pacemaker, many people have concerns when it comes to traveling. But a pacemaker should not slow down your travel, unless your doctor advises otherwise.
If you are planning to travel by airplane, be sure to alert airport security, as a pacemaker will set off security scanners. While full-body scanners are low risk and shouldn’t affect your pacemaker, hand-held scanners that are used close to the body could disrupt a pacemaker if used closer than six inches for an extended period. Be sure to have your pacemaker ID card with you as you travel and present it before going through any security checks.
5. Know Precautions to Take
You may have heard that certain devices can impact or interfere with a pacemaker (like the above-mentioned airport security scanners). Any devices emitting strong magnetic fields can disrupt the electrical signaling of your pacemaker and stop it from working properly.
Alleviate any concerns by take precautions with these potential pacemaker disruptors:
Cell Phones: Keep your cell phone at least six inches away from the site of your pacemaker.
Magnets: Like cell phones, magnets should be kept at least six inches away. While the magnets you put on your refrigerator pose a minimal risk, those with a higher magnetic strength can interfere with pacemakers. Neodymium magnets have some of the highest magnetic properties. They are used in a wide range of products—from jewelry and clothing clasps to speakers and headphones. Always check product packaging for magnet warnings.
MRI Scans: If you are scheduled for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), be sure to alert the medical team that you have a pacemaker. MRI scans can disrupt the pacing function and potentially damage the pacemaker, necessitating additional surgery for repair or even replacement. Besides MRI scans, there are other medical procedures that can affect your pacemaker, so always inform doctors or medical staff before undergoing any procedure or treatment.
6. Have Your Pacemaker ID Card
The best proactive precaution you can take is to always carry your pacemaker identification card with you. This can easily inform security, medical, and emergency professionals that you’re a pacemaker recipient. The ID card will list all the pertinent information about your pacemaker, including make, model, and programmed settings, as well as the date and hospital where your procedure took place and your doctor’s information.
All this information can be critical in an emergency to ensure you receive the proper care. You should receive your pacemaker ID card at the time of your implantation procedure. Want to have this information recorded in multiple places? Download and print pacemaker ID cards from the American Heart Association.
7. Understand Your Pacemaker Lifespan
The average lifespan of a pacemaker is five to seven years, but this can vary depending on the device and patient needs. The younger you are when you receive your pacemaker, the greater the likelihood that you will need multiple devices. For example, a young person who receives a pacemaker could be looking at upwards of 10 device replacements in their lifetime! You will want to be prepared for this eventuality.
8. Keep Your Pacemaker Checkup Appointments
Living with a pacemaker means always knowing how your pacemaker and your heart are performing. Your doctor will schedule several checkups throughout the year, with remote battery monitoring in between, depending on the type of pacemaker. These checkups are also important for notifying you of any necessary pacemaker updates, upgrades, or replacement when the time comes. ALWAYS keep your scheduled follow-up appointments and notify your doctor immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms or changes in your health.
A pacemaker is for life and can help you live that life to the fullest! But for millions around the world, these life-saving devices are out of reach. That is why the ForHearts mission is to provide pacemaker implantation and life-long follow-up care to people in developing countries around the world.
Your giving can ensure someone gets to live their life to the fullest with a pacemaker. See how you can support our life-saving mission through our donation opportunities.