Are you a new pacemaker wearer or an old hand?
If you or a family member is new to having a pacemaker, you want to know what is safe and not safe as you go about your life. If you’ve been wearing one for a while, you might like to know there are some advances both in the pacemakers and in the world’s electronics that will surprise you. We offer some general guidelines here, but to be safe, check with your doctor.
Concerns about microwaves and other interference
The concern for pacemaker wearers is whether electronic devices around them are giving off microwave emissions or any kind of interference that may keep their device from doing its job: preserving the regularity of their heartbeat. This includes more than ovens: some electronic devices can emit radio frequencies that would be picked up by older pacemakers, or certain designs.
Specifically for microwaves, it was believed that microwave ovens gave off a sort of radiation that could interfere with certain pacemakers. In 1971, microwave ovens were mandated by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), a section of the United States Food & Drug Administration FDA, to limit the radiation leakage from microwave ovens. These days, you’re probably safe to be around microwave ovens, and the newer pacemakers are designed with shields against electrical interference. But even so, the FDA advises pacemaker wearers to check with their doctors.
Devices that can affect a pacemaker
Which of the following statement are myths and which are facts?
- Cell phones interfere with pacemakers. Myth or fact?
Myth. Generally speaking, today’s cell phones will not emit an electromagnetic interference (EMI) that will interfere with pacemakers for the vast majority of people wearing the devices. However, doctors generally follow the FDA guidelines and recommend pacemaker patients do not wear the cellphone in a pocket directly over the pacemaker area.
- Airport security metal detectors are safe.
Fact. The large, walk-through metal detectors are usually okay. However, if you are randomly chosen for the wand testing, it is best to show your Pacemaker ID card or bracelet so the agent knows to keep the handheld wand from dwelling on that part of your body.
- Having an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test is not a potential risk for pacemaker patients. Myth or fact?
Myth. MRIs are potentially risky for pacemaker patients. However, while any large magnet can affect the metal parts of the pacemaker, several specific pacemaker devices have recently been approved for MRIs. Your physician will tell you if ours is one of them. In general, any equipment that puts out a large magnetic field like high-tension wires, arc welders, TV broadcast station antennae, etc. could pose a risk.
- Therapeutic radiation (that may be used for cancer treatment) carries potential risk for pacemakers. Myth or Fact? Fact. “Pacemakers… can sustain damage during a course of radiation therapy,” according to a study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Check with your doctor before having radiation therapy if you have a pacemaker.
The bottom line: pacemakers and you
Advances have been achieved in both pacemakers and electronics. But still, pacemaker patients should pay attention to their surroundings. Ask your doctor about how to protect your heart pacemaker. There are different brands and types made from different materials. If there is any doubt, let people around you know you are wearing a pacemaker, and always carry your pacemaker ID card.
Find a skilled primary care doctor or cardiologist near you who can help you understand how to live smartly and safely with a pacemaker.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.