Frequently Asked Questions About Pacemakers and Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs)

Some frequently asked questions about pacemakers and ICDs:

  • Do cellular phones interfere with pacemakers or ICDs?
    The answer to this question depends on the type of cellular phone being used. Today's pacemakers and ICDs are engineered to withstand interference from analog cellular phones. However, in some cases, digital cellular phones may interfere with the devices. According to the American Heart Association, a group of cellular phone companies is studying the newer cellular phones with new frequencies and their effect on pacemakers. The general recommendation is to avoid placing a cell phone directly over the implanted device and hold the cell phone to the ear opposite to the side of the device.
  • Do pacemakers or ICDs need to be adjusted periodically?
    Some devices may need to be adjusted if a person's medical condition or lifestyle changes. The overwhelming majority of adjustments are performed noninvasively using a device called a programmer, which is essentially a very specialized computer that communicates with the pacemaker using magnetic signals via a "wand" or loop placed over the pacemaker. Your physician will instruct you about the schedule of follow-up visits you should keep based on your condition and type of device. In addition, you may participate in telephonic assessment of your device on a periodic basis.
  • When replacing a pacemaker or ICD, are the leads also replaced? (Leads are the actual wires that carry the electrical charges to areas of the heart.)
    If the original leads are functioning properly, in most cases, they will be left in place and reattached to the new device.
  • When do I have to replace my pacemaker or ICD?
    Most devices will last 5 to 6 years, depending on use, after which the battery or pulse generator will need to be replaced. Replacing a pacemaker generator may be done on an outpatient basis or may include an overnight stay in the hospital.
  • Can I travel with my pacemaker or ICD?
    Yes, you can travel by air with your device and drive a car if cleared by your doctor. Airport security detectors are generally safe, put let airport security staff know you have a pacemaker/ICD and ask them what is the appropriate screening procedure. You should be sure to always have your identification card with you wherever you go.  Persons with ICDs may not be allowed to drive unless cleared by their physician.
  • Can I exercise with a pacemaker?
    Upon consulting your physician, you may be able to enjoy moderate exercise with your pacemaker or ICD, including housework and yard work.
  • Will I feel the pacemaker or ICD?
    At first, you may feel the weight of the device in your chest. However, over time, most people become accustomed to the way it feels. The pacemaker generator is very small, about the size of two silver dollars stacked on top of each other, and weighs about an ounce or less, depending on the make and model of the device. If the ICD sends a shock to the heart or "fires," the person will feel this as a jolt or kick in the chest. 

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