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Living with an peacemaker or ICD

Reviewed 6/4/2024

From using cellphones to playing sports, here's what to know.

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) or a pacemaker can be an important part of managing a heart problem. If you have one of these devices, it's important to follow instructions for protecting your health and making sure the device functions properly.

Scroll on to find out some of the things you need to do when you have a pacemaker or ICD.

Know how to manage your heart condition.

A pacemaker can help regulate your heart rate and an ICD can help prevent cardiac arrest, but these devices do not cure the underlying condition that caused you to need them. That's why you still must stick to your overall treatment plan, which may include getting checkups, taking medicines as prescribed and following a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Learn how your device works (and how to maintain it).

Your doctor will give you instructions about how your device works and what to expect. In addition, you'll need to have the device checked periodically to ensure that it's functioning well and that the battery is healthy. Be sure to keep all your maintenance appointments.

Talk to your doctor about any lifestyle restrictions.

Having an ICD or a pacemaker probably won't limit how you live your life. For example, you can enjoy many forms of physical activity and sports. Some activities, like full-contact sports, may damage an ICD though. So check with your doctor about safe activities.

Similarly, ask your doctor when it's safe for you to drive again.

Be aware of devices that may cause interference.

Devices that emit magnetic or electrical fields—such as cellphones, headphones and airport metal detectors—might interfere with ICDs and pacemakers. This risk is generally low. But you can play it safe by keeping your distance. For instance:

  • Hold your cellphone to your ear opposite your implant. Or use the speakerphone mode.
  • Keep headphones at least 6 inches away from your device.
  • Tell security personnel at airports or other venues with metal detectors about your device.

Carry a medical alert ID card.

In an emergency, your ID card would let medical responders know you have an implant if you aren't able to tell them. They need to know that to give you the right care. You may also want to consider getting a medical ID bracelet or necklace.

Know when to call your doctor.

Call your doctor right away if you suspect any kind of problem with your device or if you notice signs of an infection, such as fever, chills, pain or redness over your implant site.

Signs that an ICD may not be working properly include fainting, dizziness, breathlessness and heart palpitations.

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