Arnold SchwarzeneggerShare on Pinterest
Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed he recently underwent surgery to get a pacemaker implanted to help manage irregular heartbeat. Bellocqimages/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger is now living with a pacemaker following several open heart surgeries, some dating back to the 1990s.
  • Pacemakers are small battery-powered devices that help to control the rhythm of the heart by delivering tiny electrical impulses
  • The former Governor of California is in good health following the procedure and is encouraging his fans to speak openly with their doctors about their health.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Governor of California, Hollywood superstar, and bodybuilding champion, announced this week that he recently got a pacemaker. The procedure marks the latest in a string of surgeries for his heart, some dating back to the 1990s.

“I had surgery for a pacemaker and became a little bit more of a machine,” the Terminator star said on the most recent episode of the Arnold’s Pump Club podcast. Schwarzenegger appears to be in good health and feeling better than ever, following the procedure.

In the ten-minute episode, he also goes on to reveal further details about his heart, medical history, and his hope that the revelations will help to lower the stigma around discussing health issues.

“I know a lot of you are probably dealing with your own health challenges, and I want you to know that you aren’t alone. If you’re putting something off out of fear, I hope I inspire you to listen to your doctors and take care of yourself,” he said.

Schwarzenegger got a pacemaker on the recommendation of his medical team due to an irregular heartbeat, also known as an arrhythmia.

An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too quickly, or has an irregular rhythm.

Despite his renowned physique and level of fitness, the 76-year-old Schwarzenegger has been plagued by heart problems over the years. He admits on his podcast that he has a congenital heart defect known as a bicuspid aortic valve.

The normal aortic valve in the heart has three valves or leaflets, but individuals with this condition only have two leaflets.

The condition led him to have aortic valve surgery back in 1997.

“My mother and her mother’s bicuspid valves killed them. I’m still here because of medical innovation and being very diligent about staying in touch with my doctors and listening to them. My mother refused to have the valve replacement surgery,” he said.

The replacement valves were intended to last 12-15 years, he explains in the podcast, but due to the quality of the surgery they lasted more than twenty.

However, in 2018 he went in to finally have them replaced. Although the procedure was initially supposed to be relatively noninvasive, due to “a screw-up,” the procedure ended up being an open heart surgery.

In the end, he only had one of the valves replaced; the second was replaced in 2020.

While the surgeries were successful, his team told him he would need to pay close attention to his heart rhythm and potentially get a pacemaker.

“They advised me that it was time to go through with this because some scar tissue from my previous surgery had made my heartbeat irregular. It had been like that for a few years,” said Schwarzenegger on the podcast.

Leading up to the surgery, he admitted he was having trouble keeping up his energy levels during long days overseeing his Arnold Sports events in Europe.

“That’s one thing you learn about an irregular heartbeat. All that extra work your heart does wears you out,” he said.

A pacemaker is a small battery-powered device that is capable of delivering an electrical charge to the heart if it detects irregularities in heart rhythm.

“Pacemakers are designed to prevent very slow heartbeats. What the pacemaker does is it watches the rhythm of the heart, and if the heartbeat goes below a certain value, which can be programmed into the device, it will deliver a tiny dose of an electrical impulse to cause the heart to contract,” Dr. Rod Passman, MD, Director of the Center for Arrhythmia Research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told Healthline.

Pacemakers are most commonly used to treat an abnormally slow heartbeat, known as bradycardia.

While the devices used to be large, requiring open heart surgery, today they are quite discreet and can be implanted with minimal invasive techniques using small incisions.

In fact, Schwarzenegger said that he was in and out of the hospital for the procedure on the same day.

“There have been great advances in pacing,” said Passman.

“Most people forget they have it. They don’t feel the pacemaker itself, and the procedure itself has a very low complication rate. This is a therapy that can improve the quality of life and the duration of life,” he said.

Dr. Abha Khandelwal, MD, a Clinical Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford Medicine, explained to Healthline that, like a house, a heart requires sound structure, electrical, and plumbing. All of those components can affect one another, making them function irregularly.

In Schwarzenegger’s case, the scar tissue from his previous surgeries was impacting how electrical signals moved through his heart, resulting in irregularities.

“When you have scar tissue, it can be a source of ectopic rhythm. So, for instance, when people have scar tissue on their ventricles, that can cause what we call ventricular ectopy, meaning extra beats,” she said.

Arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm can manifest in a variety of forms, including tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), bradycardia (slow heartbeat), and premature or extra heartbeats (these can feel like the heart fluttering or skipping a beat.

While it is unclear exactly what kind of abnormal heart rhythm Schwarzenegger is experiencing, pacemakers are most commonly used to treat bradycardia.

Bradycardia can result in the following:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Tiredness
  • Fainting spells
  • Shortness of breath

More extreme complications from a slow heartbeat include:

Arnold Schwarzenneger recently got a pacemaker at the Cleveland Clinic.

Schwarzenneger, who has lived his whole life with a congenital heart defect, has had multiple open-heart surgeries.

His medical team told him that scarring from the surgeries was affecting his heart rhythm.

Pacemakers are small battery-powered devices that help to control heart rhythm by delivering tiny electrical impulses. They are typically used to treat bradycardia or abnormally slow heart rhythm.