How does a pacemaker work?

The pacing system includes a pacemaker, a small pulse generator with a microcircuit computer and a special battery, and one or more wires called leads. The pacemaker monitors or senses the heartbeat and sends small electrical signals through the lead to correct the heart rhythm when it detects that the heart is not beating normally. That process is called pacing. A pacemaker can speed up a slow heartbeat, slow down fast heartbeats, and stabilize the ventricular rate due to Afib (a rapidly and irregular heartbeat).

Does a pacemaker work all the time or only when I need it?

Some pacemakers continually pace your heart, while others only do so when your heart needs pacing.

Are there different kinds of pacemakers?

Yes. Your doctor can choose a pacemaker that will work best for you. The amount and intensity of your exercise routine and your hobbies will determine the type of pacemaker that will work best for you. If you might need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the future, your doctor can choose to implant an MR conditional pacemaker.

How long will it take to resume my normal activities after getting a pacemaker?

The recovery from pacemaker surgery doesn’t take long. Your doctor will let you know when it’s safe to resume your normal activities.

Can I exercise with a pacemaker?

Yes. After you have recovered from your implantation procedure, you should return to your normal activities including

  • Moderate exercise
  • Work
  • Driving
  • Gardening or yard work
  • Sports (Avoid contact sports)
  • Bathing and showering
  • Normal sexual activity

Can I get an MRI if I have a pacemaker?

It depends on which pacemaker you have. The large magnetic fields in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners can negatively affect your device by damaging the device or its components, affecting the pacemaker’s function or triggering rapid pacing. Current American Heart Association and U.S. Food and Drug (FDA) guidelines, and device manufacturer guidelines do not support MRI in pacemaker patients. MR conditional pacemakers approved for MRI scanning have received FDA clearance for use in the U.S. and CE approval in the EU.

Can I travel with a pacemaker?

Yes. Airport personnel can help you through the security process. Having a pacemaker means you will have to carry your patient identification with you at all times. Show security personnel your patient identification card so you can avoid the metal detectors. Some pacemaker manufacturers will help you find a clinic near your destination that is familiar with your device in case you need medical attention while away.

How long does a pacemaker last?

Pacemakers can last for approximately 7-12 years. When your pacemaker battery needs to be replaced, it will send a signal to your doctor if it has remote monitoring capability. A new pacemaker will be implanted using the same procedure.

Do I have to avoid machinery if I have a pacemaker?

Here is a list of the equipment and procedures that you should avoid after having a pacemaker implanted:

  • Equipment or other sources that generate strong magnetic fields that can interfere with your pacemaker
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)-The large magnetic fields in MRI can negatively affect your device. If you have an MR conditional pacemaker, the FDA has determined that those are safe.
  • Contact sports

Take precautions with the following:

  • Cell phones:
    • Keep the phone 6 inches (15 cm) away from your pacemaker at all times, even when it is off.
    • Hold the phone against your ear that is on the opposite side of your pacemaker
    • Don’t carry your phone in your breast pocket over the pacemaker
    • Avoid placing the phone or its antenna over the pacemaker
  • Metal Detectors
    • Avoid metal detectors: both handheld and walk through
    • Inform security personnel of your pacemaker device
    • Show your patient ID card
  • Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)
    • Theft detection, anti-theft systems, Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS)
      • Many stores may use theft detection systems at entrances and exits and throughout the store to detect shoplifting. It’s possible that these might interfere with your pacemaker. If you feel a theft detection system is affecting your pacemaker, leave the area immediately.
  • Electric tools, power tools, welders, and electric melting furnaces
  • Radio/television and radar transmitters and satellite towers. Ham radios and CB’s should be safe to use.
  • Power-generating facilities
  • High voltage transmission lines
  • Walkie-talkies and other handheld transceivers including emergency two-way radios used by security, maintenance, or emergency personnel
  • Pagers
  • Vehicle ignition systems: Make sure to stay 12 inches (30 cm) away from the ignition system under your car’s hood.
  • Electrical starting systems of gasoline-powered equipment if there is not a protective hood or shroud
  • Procedures
    • External defibrillation: Any implanted device may be damaged by high-energy external defibrillation shock. If you receive an external defibrillation shock, consult your doctor.
    • Diathermy: This procedure generates heat in tissue with electrical currents. Avoid diathermy therapy. It might have heating effects on the pacemaker.
    • Electrosurgical procedures, such as cardiac ablation therapy, will require your doctor to turn off your pacemaker. Your pacemaker will need to be checked by your doctor after the procedure.
    • High dose radiation, X-rays, or nuclear medicine: Your pacemaker may be damaged by radiation. Alert the healthcare professional before getting an x-ray or radiation/radio therapy
    • Lithotripsy: This therapy used to treat kidney stones is not recommended for pacemaker patients due to the electrical or mechanical interference it may cause.
  • Changes in your heart condition, drugs, or other health conditions may affect your pacemaker. Continue to have regular check ups to monitor your health and your pacemaker.


Choosing Your Pacemaker

Not all pacemakers are alike. Get our educational eguide, Choosing Your Pacemaker, and learn what functions are key to choosing the best device for your lifestyle.



Get our educational eguide, Understanding Abnormal Heart Rhythms, and learn about the basic heart functions and types of arrhythmia.