How to Recover Safely After Device Implantation
Surgery to implant a pacemaker or other type of implantable device can feel a bit unsettling. As with any surgery, it can come with many questions for a patient to sort out. However, pacemaker surgery is not an uncommon procedure. Statisticians now estimate just over a million are implanted each year. Device patients are usually able to return to many everyday activities quickly. It can, however, take four to six weeks to be able to do certain activities again, such as heavy lifting. While you should always speak with your physician about your specific recovery needs, we’ve outlined a few of the key things to expect just after you’ve had your implant surgery.
Pain and looking after the incision site
You may feel some pain or have some bruising at the spot your physician made the incision. Your doctor may give you some pain medication to take during the first few days. In some cases, he or she may prescribe a course of antibiotics. Use any medication as directed and don’t pat the incision site. Your physician will have put some tape and a bandage on the incision site. Follow your physician’s advice on when to change your bandage and keep regular appointments for assistance if necessary. Contact your doctor right away if you develop any signs of infection in the area. These signs could include a large bruise with visible swelling, severe skin reddening around the patch bend, or strong drainage that moistens the bandage after only a day. As with any open wound, it can take a few days to heal properly, during which time water may soften the wound edges. Your doctor will let you know when you can take showers and get into a bath or hot tub—although it is common for physicians to recommend sponge baths for the first seven days, and to avoid baths and hot tubs for the first two weeks. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol on the incision site, as this can slow down the healing process.
Activity and Exercise
Implanted device patients can often do all the exercise and activity they were doing beforehand about four to six weeks after surgery. In order to allow leads to settle optimally in the heart muscle, do not raise the arm on the side where your device was implanted above your shoulder—for about four to six weeks after your surgery. During this same time, stay away from activities that could strain your upper arms like using a chainsaw, lawn mower, or swinging a golf club. Also avoid activities where you would be raising your upper arm overhead, such as painting a ceiling or hanging curtains. Your doctor may also tell you to take a break from certain sports where there’s a risk of rough contact while your body adapts to your new implant. If you have questions about whether a specific activity is okay, or when you can start a particular activity again, make sure to ask your physician.
Driving or operating machinery
Your doctor will let you know how soon you’ll be able to drive again. Typically, though, device implant patients are often told to wait about a week after the procedure before getting behind the wheel. That’s why it’s important you arrange for a way to get home after your surgery. Patients who are licensed for larger vehicles, like bus drivers, may have to wait the full four to six weeks before being able to drive these larger vehicles again
Your implant and electronic devices
Most electronics are safe to use around an implanted device. There are, however, a few precautions you’ll need to take.
- Your mobile phone: Talking on or using your phone is generally quite safe. But most official guidelines suggest keeping it at least 15 centimeters (or six inches) away from your implant. Don’t put it in your shirt pocket, for example.
- Security systems: When going through a security system—such as at an airport—make sure you show your card stating that you have an implant to security staff. They’ll advise you what to do next.
- Medical equipment and MRI Scanners: Make sure any physician or dentist treating you knows you have an implanted device so they can take the necessary precautions with any equipment they use. Most implanted devices are now compatible with MRI, under certain conditions. For more information, check out our post on getting an MRI with your implant.
- Power-generating equipment: Stay about 60 centimeters (or two feet) away from high-voltage or welding equipment.
Living with your implant and follow-up
Going forward, a pacemaker or other implant can dramatically extend and improve quality of life. But there are a few things to keep in mind. First, make sure your family and any doctors and dentists who treat you know you have an implant. It’s also recommended to carry your device ID with you, so any health care professional treating you can identify the type of device you have quickly, if necessary. You physician will recommend follow-up intervals based on the latest guidance from national and international cardiology societies. You’ll often head to the doctor’s office for a follow-up six to twelve months after the device is implanted. In certain cases, a device enabled with remote monitoring technology like BIOTRONIK Home Monitoring allows your physician to do regular follow-ups remotely without you having to go into the clinic.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to adjust after device implantation, you can find more useful information in our patient section.