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Living with Defibrillator or Pacemaker: Six Action Steps to Improve Your Quality of Life and Thrive

This article discusses some challenges of living with a new device and identifies six steps to help you recover. I guide you, the device recipient, on how to have a physical, mental, and emotional (whole-person) recovery so you experience your best possible health.

a man in a doctor's blue scrub holding a plastic red heart in his fingers
Living with a DEFIB or a pacemaker

Each year, globally, surgeons implant approximately 1.7 million cardio-implantable electronic devices (CIEDs), increasing the number of people who live remotely monitored lives. Living with a CIED differs from other cardiac surgeries as the device becomes part of your body, actively maintaining a healthy heart rhythm. Your recovery extends beyond the surgical procedure and encompasses mental and physical well-being, including comfort in your body and trust in the new device. Adjusting to life with a pacemaker or defibrillator requires time and emotional adaptation.

Implanted medical devices like a defibrillator or a pacemaker, when determined necessary for you by your cardiologist and electrophysiologist, are permanent. They act as advanced autopilot systems, enhancing and supporting your heart's function, monitoring and intervening when needed. These devices can significantly improve your quality of life over time. However, to fully benefit from the device's advantages, you must become comfortable living with it. Change is hard for everyone, and most people need new tools and coping skills to navigate a significant change to their body and lifestyle.

Here are six areas to take action in that will help you optimize your behavioral health when living with these devices:

1. Get support by seeking and allowing yourself to receive emotional and practical support from family, friends, pets, or a support group.

a heart outline showing the pulse line and a finger pointing at the center of it

Adjusting to life with a defibrillator or pacemaker can bring about a range of emotions, including gratitude, hope, anxiety, fear, or even depression. Learn how to express your feelings and then practice receiving emotional support. Consider joining a local or online support group specifically for individuals with cardiac devices, as they can provide a sense of community and shared experiences. Allow your healthcare provider to support you, ask questions and get clarity on what you don’t understand, then stick to the doctor's orders. Don’t go it alone, and don’t avoid follow-up appointments. Work with clinicians you like and respect and who answer your questions.

2. Educate yourself by learning about your cardiac condition, your defibrillator or pacemaker device, and its functions to help reduce or alleviate anxiety and increase your confidence in managing your condition.

A open heart plastic model being shown to a person by a doctor

Educate yourself and your support system or learn together with them about emergency protocols and basic CPR. Consider carrying an emergency medical ID card or a medical bracelet to guard against situations when you cannot communicate directly.

Take the time to learn how your defibrillator or pacemaker works: its feature, its purpose, how the device functions and potential warning signs programmed into the device. For example, some devices are set to beep when the battery is near time for replacement. If this is your device, you won’t be frightened when you hear the beep sound; instead, you will understand its purpose.

Some medical devices are impacted by electromagnetic fields in your environment. Your doctors will discuss this with you. Stay vigilant of your surroundings, as strong electromagnetic fields can influence specific devices. Maintain distance from sources like industrial equipment, MRI machines, and high-powered generators emitting intense electromagnetic radiation. Some familiar places you will likely encounter electromagnetic fields are security systems at airports or department stores that use metal detectors. This knowledge can empower you to make informed decisions and feel more in control of your health.

3. Practice stress management to improve your quality of life and well-being.

A woman wearing lot of jewellery shown with her hands on her chest

Both cardiovascular disease and having a cardiac device surgically implanted can be stressful. Chronic stress can negatively impact your overall health and put you at risk for another cardiac event, so it's crucial to incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine. Be open to exploring and learning new ways to manage stress. Find relaxation techniques that work for you, such as deep breathing exercises, walks, gardening, listening to music, mindfulness meditation, yoga, or engaging in hobbies that bring you joy. Regular exercise appropriate to your current condition, adequate sleep, and a healthy work-life balance can reduce stress. In future posts, I will be demonstrating some of these relaxation techniques.

4. Learn and cultivate a positive mindset because a positive mindset can energize you, help you stay engaged and committed to your recovery action steps, and impact your emotional well-being.

A smiling woman shown holding a coffee mug and staring out of the window

A positive mindset is a great tool to help you strengthen your resilience. It’s like putting money in the bank when you have it, so you can draw on it in the future to help you recover when you encounter difficult times. Focus on the aspects of your life that bring joy and purpose. Engage in activities and hobbies you like. If you don’t know what these activities are, make a bucket list to discover them. Surround yourself with supportive and positive people and loving pets. Your positive outlook can help you cope better with challenges and strengthen your physical recovery.

5. Embrace a healthy lifestyle because it significantly enhances your overall well-being, extends your life, and improves your device functionality.

A smiling elderly man shown wearing headphones and walking

A healthy lifestyle is critical now, even if this is the first time you have paid attention to this aspect of your life. It’s never too late to start. Prioritize a balanced diet low in sodium and saturated fats, and exercise to manage hypertension. For example, living with a defibrillator or pacemaker doesn't require giving up physical activity entirely. Consult your doctor about exercise plans. Seek their guidance on suitable activities and intensity levels. Engage in regular exercise appropriate for your condition, quit smoking if you're a smoker, limit alcohol consumption, explore relaxation techniques such as meditation, and pursue activities that bring joy.

6. Cultivate your communication skills, so you communicate with friends, co-workers, family, and healthcare providers about your condition and the presence of your defibrillator or pacemaker.

A female patient talking to a female doctor

Getting support (see above) is greatly enhanced as you practice asking for what you need, knowing how you feel, and telling others what is on your mind. A guideline for communication is the adage, “Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don’t say what it means.”

Communicate with your healthcare provider. Ask questions and be open to learning about how to manage your recovery. Adhering to their guidelines, such as activity limitations, wound care, and symptom monitoring, is crucial. Stay diligent with follow-up appointments. Use your appointment times to enhance your recovery by getting support and communicating what is happening and what you need.

Your experience is unique, and it's important to customize these action steps to your specific situation and needs. Don't hesitate to ask for professional help if you're struggling with your behavioral health or need additional support in making behavior changes or managing your emotions while living with a defibrillator or pacemaker. In future articles, I will teach you the tools and skills you need to implement these action steps.


Further Reading:


This blog is made available by the publisher for educational purposes; to provide general information and a general understanding of health issues (health psychology, behavioral health, medical yoga), and does not provide specific medical advice. By using this blog, you understand that there is no medical-client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent medical/clinical advice from a licensed professional clinician.


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