A Primer for New Pacemaker or Defibrillator Patients

Published: 23rd July 2009
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If you recently had a pacemaker or defibrillator implanted or if you know someone who did, you probably figure that life as you knew it was over. That's not really the case--but the first few weeks as a pacemaker person can be a bit of a hurdle.

Healing from the surgery usually is complete in four to eight weeks after surgery, depending on the individual case. Many people report that they do not feel all that much different even after the pacemaker or defibrillator is implanted. Some people report feeling better, stronger, or more energetic. However, you should not feel worse.

The incision should be healing. While the scar may still be prominent, it should not be hot, red, angry-looking, or oozing. If it is, contact your doctor right away.

It is very likely that your doctor or someone at your doctor's office gave you some tips about what you can do and what you ought to avoid. While you may have some personalized instructions from your doctor, most patients are told to avoid anything that might cause a blow to the chest. The biggest thing to avoid is contact sports. The danger in a blow to the chest is that it could damage the pacemaker or defibrillator.

Pacemaker people can do most of the same things they did before getting the pacemaker or defibrillator. People with these implanted devices can work, participate in some sports, and travel. People with pacemakers are almost always allowed to return to driving (once they are healed from surgery) but sometimes people with defibrillators are asked to give up driving, perhaps for a few weeks or perhaps for good. The driving restriction has nothing to do with the defibrillator, but for the underlying heart condition. Certain defibrillator people have a heart condition that puts them at risk of passing out suddenly; these are the people who are advised to not drive.

The same is true for swimming. Pacemaker people are almost always told they can go swimming, but those with defibrillators at risk of passing out from their heart condition may be advised not to swim to avoid the risk of drowning. The idea is that if a person suddenly loses consciousness in the water, he or she can sink and start to inhale underwater.

If you had a pacemaker implanted, the company that manufactured your pacemaker should send you a special card identifying you as a pacemaker person. It will arrive by mail about eight weeks after your implant. This card is very useful to show to all other doctors and other health care workers, including nurses, chiropractors, dentists, and even massage therapists.

Going through airport security or other checkpoints is usually not a problem for people with pacemakers providing they have their pacemaker ID card handy. It is possible for pacemaker people to walk through the metal detector at security checkpoints providing they walk at a normal pace and don't stop right under the beam of the detector. Depending on the sensitivity of the metal detector and the person's build, the metal in the pacemaker or defibrillator may set off the alarm ... but it may not.

The recommended course of action is to immediately tell the security person or people that you have a pacemaker or defibrillator and show them your identification card.

Some pacemaker people report that shoulder-type seatbelts no longer feel comfortable because the strap hits right at the implant site. For these individuals, a bit of cushion or padding on the seatbelt can make for a more comfortable ride.

People with pacemakers and defibrillators can lead active lives with minimal disruption caused by their heart therapy. Every patient is different so pacemaker people should talk to their physicians with specific questions. If you had a previous heart condition such that your doctor ordered a pacemaker or defibrillator, you have to realize that going without a pacemaker or defibrillator would mean not getting the therapy you need. Even if it seems like a struggle, you are probably better off with the device than without it.


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Find out more about seatbelt covers that can cushion your ride if you're a pacemaker or defibrillator person at www.PacemakerShop.com. This article was written by Jo Ann LeQuang who blogs at www.PacemakerPeople.com.

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