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.
What are the restrictions when I get home from the hospital?
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. 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 your doctor will usually recommend 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 are discharged, your 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.
- Do try to keep your shoulder relaxed and use only small motions to prevent the muscles from tensing.
- Do keep taking your medications as prescribed.
- Do talk with your 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 call your doctor if you experience any side effects that could mean the pacemaker isn’t working well, including dizziness or problems breathing.
- Do call your doctor if the pacemaker site is red or warm, or 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 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.
What are the symptoms of complications after pacemaker surgery?
Your doctor should give you some follow-up information about when to seek medical attention due to complications after pacemaker insertion. The main concerns are infection at the incision site or that the pacemaker won’t work as it should.
Some symptoms you should call your doctor about include:
- 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
When can I resume my normal activities?
Your 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 to do so. Running, jogging, or taking an exercise class could all be examples of strenuous activity.
It’s also important to know that you should avoid swimming, using a hot tub, or any activity that would submerge the device or your incision underwater.
You will likely be advised 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.
Your doctor will also 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.
Provided you have not had any complications after the 6-week period, your doctor will advise you if you can return to your full previous level of physical activity.
What does medical follow-up look like?
Technological innovations mean your doctor can check in remotely or in person to see if your pacemaker is working. Information your doctor can find out includes:
- 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 your type of pacemaker.
Although remote pacemaker checks are an option, you’ll still need to see them for regular appointments. They will likely monitor how well the pacemaker is working, check your overall heart health, and go over the medications you’re currently taking in relation to your heart health.
You may also check with them about any concerns you may have about your pacemaker when going through airport security or about possible cellphone interference.
The frequency of your appointments will often depend on your overall heart health. For example, you may need to go see your cardiologist yearly or every 6 months.