A pacemaker can help your heart maintain a consistent rhythm. The procedure to insert a pacemaker involves making an incision in the skin that creates a “pocket” where the pacemaker is placed. Recovery means limiting your activity and keeping the insertion site clean and dry.
Keep reading to find out more about instructions for recovery following pacemaker surgery.
When your doctor puts in a pacemaker, they place wires called leads in the chamber(s) of your heart, depending on the type of pacemaker you have.
During recovery, it’s important to limit your physical activity to make sure the tissue around the leads has time to heal and that the leads don’t move.
This is why a doctor typically recommends a reduction in physical activity, lifting, and movement after the procedure. Sometimes, you may go home the same day or stay overnight for monitoring after pacemaker surgery.
Before you’re discharged, a doctor or nurse will give you some do’s and don’ts to follow after pacemaker insertion surgery. These may include:
- Do: Obtain a medical device ID card that includes information about your pacemaker, such as the manufacturer and the chamber where the device is placed. You may also consider a medical ID bracelet or necklace.
- Do: Prevent wires from moving. A doctor may recommend avoiding heavy lifting, raising your arms above your head, or strenuous physical activity.
- Do: Try to keep your shoulder relaxed and perform only small motions to prevent the muscles from tensing.
- Do: Keep taking your medications as prescribed.
- Do: Talk with a doctor about when your pacemaker should be checked and if you need any adjustments to your medications.
- Do: Eat and drink as you normally would.
- Do: Ask a doctor when it’s safe to engage in sexual activity.
- Do: Call a doctor if you experience any side effects that could mean the pacemaker isn’t working well, including:
- chest pain or problems breathing
- hiccups that don’t go away
- weight gain or swollen legs and ankles
- Do: Call a doctor if the pacemaker site is red or warm, or if you have a fever.
- Don’t: Get the incision site wet until you get your doctor’s OK (usually after a follow-up visit or if you need your stitches removed). This is typically about 2 days to a week after your procedure.
- Don’t: Wear tight clothing over the incision site to avoid irritating the skin.
- Don’t: Engage in excessive physical activity, including movements like leaning on your arms or stretching your arms overhead or behind you.
- Don’t: Rub your chest area around or near the incision.
- Don’t: Lift heavy objects, which may even include a heavy purse or a dog or cat, especially on the side of the pacemaker.
- Don’t: Drive or operate heavy machinery until you get your doctor’s OK.
- Don’t: Have close contact with devices that may interfere with your pacemaker, especially in the area around where it’s implanted. Keep certain items at least 6 inches from your pacemaker, even after the recovery period has ended. This may include cellphones and electronic cigarettes.
What are the symptoms of complications after pacemaker surgery?
A doctor should provide follow-up information about when to seek medical attention for complications after pacemaker surgery. The main concerns include infection at the incision site or that the pacemaker isn’t working as it should.
Contact a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- a heart rate that drops below the rate your doctor has set
- any feeling that your heart rhythm is off
- swelling, redness, or warmth around the surgical site
- foul-smelling or thick discharge from the incision site
The doctor will typically advise against strenuous activity for about 2 weeks after your pacemaker insertion.
Strenuous activity involves anything that significantly raises your heart rate and requires you to move your body a lot. This includes activities like:
- taking an exercise class
You should avoid swimming, using a hot tub, or any activity that would submerge the device or your incision underwater.
The doctor may advise you to avoid lifting heavy items for about 6 weeks after the procedure. This includes items like grocery bags. If you run errands outside your home, you may need assistance.
The doctor may recommend light or moderate exercise, such as walking. These activities are beneficial not only for your recovery, but also for your heart and overall physical health.
If you haven’t had any complications after the 6-week period, the doctor will advise when you can return to your previous level of physical activity.
A doctor may share additional recommendations to follow even after you recover from the surgery.
Talk with a doctor ahead of medical and dental procedures, as they
Let any other doctors, dentists, and medical professionals you see know that you have a pacemaker. Talk with these healthcare professionals ahead of any upcoming medical or dental procedures, especially those involving magnets or equipment with strong electromagnetic fields.
This may include:
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- electrocautery, which can be used during surgery to stop blood vessels that may bleed
- microwave diathermy for physical therapy
- radiation therapy for treating cancer
- shock-wave lithotripsy for treating kidney stones
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which treats pain
Avoid close contact with devices that may interfere with your pacemaker, especially in the area around where it’s implanted. Keep certain items at least
When traveling by air, let a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent know that you have a pacemaker. While a metal detector is
Staying physically active helps your heart and body. Talk with a doctor about which activities you can engage and how soon after surgery.
Technological innovations mean the doctor can check in remotely or in person to see if your pacemaker is working. Information the doctor can find out can include:
- your heart rate
- how well the pacemaker is working
- how long the battery will last
The doctor can also often change settings in person or remotely, depending on the type of pacemaker you have.
Although remote pacemaker checks are an option, you’ll still need to see a doctor for regular appointments. These appointments can include:
- monitoring how well the pacemaker is working
- checking your overall heart health
- updating the pacemaker’s software, if needed
- going over any medications you’re currently taking for your heart health
- addressing any concerns you have about your pacemaker, such as going through airport security or possible cellphone interference
The appointment frequency can depend on your overall heart health. For example, you may need to go see a cardiologist
Doctors implant an estimated 1.25 million pacemakers worldwide each year. Recovery from this procedure often means limiting your physical activity, not because your heart can’t tolerate the procedure but because your body needs time for the pacemaker site to properly heal.
If at any time you notice complications of pacemaker insertion, call your local emergency services or a doctor.