A pacemaker is a small electronic device surgically implanted under the skin in the chest, near the heart. This device is used to treat arrhythmia -- abnormalities in the heart rate. These abnormalities can be caused by genetic diseases, heart attack, old age and other damage to the heart muscle. The battery life of the average pacemaker is 5 to 10 years and people with pacemakers must take certain precautions to prevent the device from becoming damaged and malfunctioning.
People with pacemakers must be cautious about undergoing medical procedures that use electromagnetic energy, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and radiation treatments. Exposure to other strong magnetic fields can damage the pacemaker and cause it to malfunction. X-rays can also adversely affect pacemakers. Surgical procedures may require the surgeon to temporarily turn off your pacemaker. Certain modalities used in physical rehabilitation -- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and diathermy (a form of electrical heat) -- can also interfere with pacemaker function.
People with pacemakers should take certain precautions when using a cell phone. Cellular phones should be kept at least six inches from the pacemaker at all times, whether they are on or off. Pacemaker recipients should used their cell phones with their right hand and always listen with their right ear -- the opposite side from their pacemaker. Cell phone interference with pacemakers is temporary and improves when the phone is moved away from the body.
People with pacemakers are advised by their doctors not to pass through metal detectors, whether they are free standing or hand-held, since they use strong magnetic fields. Research has not proven, however, that metal detectors negatively affect pacemaker function. Patients are issued medical identification cards for use in these situations.
Other Electromagnetic Fields
People with pacemakers also risk exposure to other electromagnetic fields. Sources include anti-theft devices in stores, electric welders, radio and television transmitters, power-generating facilities, power lines, satellite dishes and gas-powered devices with electrical starters. Household appliances like microwaves also produce current that can interfere with pacemaker function. Pacemaker patients can still use a microwave oven, but they should not stand too close when it is running.
Symptoms of pacemaker malfunction include dizziness, abdominal muscle twitching, lightheadedness, chest pain, shortness of breath, frequent or constant hiccups and blackouts. When possible, remove yourself from the vicinity of the suspected electromagnetic field as soon as you experience any of these symptoms. Once you are safely away, check your heart rate and call your doctor.
- Mayo Clinic; Pacemaker - Definition; Mayo Clinic Staff
- Mayo Clinic; Pacemaker; What You Can Expect; Mayo Clinic Staff
- Biotronik: What You Should Know About Your Pacemaker - Patient Manual
- Rochester Medical Center: Permanent Pacemakers
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: How Will a Pacemaker Affect My Liefstyle?
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