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Senior Correspondent

Q. Are pacemakers safe?

Modern pacemakers are stable devices that have built-in protection from most types of interference produced by everyday electrical appliances. 

But there are still some precautions you should take if you’ve had one of these miraculous gizmos implanted in your chest. The following could be problems:

Power machines are dangerous. Stand at least two feet away from arc-welding equipment, high-voltage transformers and motor-generator systems.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a no-no if you have a pacemaker. In fact, any procedure that exposes you to electromagnetic energy is a problem. These procedures include therapeutic radiation, shockwave lithotripsy that breaks up large kidney stones, and electrocautery to control bleeding during surgery. 

Short-wave or microwave diathermy uses high-frequency, high-intensity signals. These may interfere with a pacemaker. 

Metal detectors at airports don’t interfere with pacemakers when you pass through them briefly. However, you should not hang around them for a long time or lean against them. And, if security personnel want to use a hand-held metal detector, ask them to avoid your pacemaker.

Some sources say cell phones are harmless. However, others insist that you shouldn’t put your cell directly over your pacemaker because it’s possible that the pacemaker could misinterpret a phone signal, withhold pacing and make you feel tired. The old cliche is appropriate: better safe than sorry.

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