If you are a pacemaker person, you have probably grown frustrated with the fact that there are allegedly certain things you can and cannot do now that you have an implanted pacemaker–but there is no definitive list anywhere that names what can and cannot be done. Can you use an electric shaver? Can you fix a lawn mower? Can you wear jewelry that has a magnetic clasp? What if you live near power lines … is that a problem? And how do you get through airport security?

There is a reason that most doctors and manufacturers do not provide you with a list of equipment and activities spelled out in black and white. The real answer to what you can and cannot do is simple: “It depends.” It depends on the pacemaker (most today are very well shielded from external forces but some older ones may be less well shielded) and it depends on the implant location (the deeper the implant, the less likely outside waves can reach it) and it depends on the source of the interference.

The old story about pacemaker people not being able to use a microwave is a myth, at least it has become a myth. Pacemakers and microwaves are both well shielded; the microwave does not emit anything that would disturb the pacemaker and, even if it did, the pacemaker is shielded. Most household appliances are fine to use. Same thing with electric razors and other ordinary devices.

When it comes to the workshop, there are situations where certain electromagnetic fields can interfere with the pacemaker. The trouble is that these can be highly specific. So in an effort not to scare everybody away from working on any engine, most device experts will simply tell you that working on an electric motor may or may not interfere with your device.

How do you know? If you experience interference, you will feel funny. For most pacemaker people you will start to feel lightheaded, woozy, dizzy, or just not right. Interference of this sort does not damage the pacemaker. The best way to get back to normal is to distance yourself from the source of interference. Either step away or, if possible, turn off the interference. Once you know if something bothers your pacemaker, you can then avoid it.

Most pacemaker people do not run into these issues. However, there are some things that truly can give you a problem.

1. Arc welding.

2. Being close to high-tension lines.

3. Industrial magnets.

4. Bumper cars. (No, I’m not making that up. In fact, many amusement park rides can interfere with your device but bumper cars is the worst.)

And finally what about security check points or scanners at airports? You should be able to pass through these without interference. In fact, depending on your size, your implant, and how sensitive the metal detector is, your pacemaker may not even set it off. On the other hand, if you want to play it safe, just show your pacemaker ID card to the security officials and they will tell you how to proceed. But if you do walk through airport security as a “regular person” instead of a “pacemaker person,” you may very well be able to do so. And even if the airport scanners did interfere with the device, you move through them so quickly it’s a non-issue. Who lingers under a metal detector for minutes?

There is one thing that can cause pacemaker interference that few pacemaker people realize. Many department stores and other large discount stores have theft-detection systems. These are electronic surveillance systems that help the store detect shoplifting. In such stores, some or all merchandise has some kind of sensor attached to it; when you pay for merchandise, the sensor is deactivated. The surveillance system tries to track still-active sensors, particularly as they near the door. The problem with these theft-deterrent systems (as they are sometimes called) is that few stores post notice about them. They are designed to be invisible. As a general rule, you as a pacemaker person can roam around a store with electronic surveillance with no problem. But if you stand or sit in a certain area that happens to be near a beam of this system, it can affect the pacemaker.

  • If you are ever in a big store and start to feel funny, woozy, or even faint, take notice where you are … and move away. Even three or four steps can be enough.
  • If it’s an antitheft system that is causing this, you were probably standing or lingering or sitting in one spot for a while. (If you were walking through the store and felt faint, it is unlikely to be the store’s surveillance system at fault.)
  • You should start to feel better as soon as you move out of the “danger zone.” If you know this happens to you in certain stores, you can still shop there providing you do not stand still very long or stand still only in places you know will not affect you. (Most of these surveillance systems monitor the door areas rather than deep in the store.)

The bottom line is that the average pacemaker person will not likely experience device interference from appliances or equipment. People with industrial jobs might, but they may be able to work with a physician of a device company representative to figure out solutions.

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