Pacemakers are important medical devices that have saved a lot of lives across the globe.
They have helped people with heart problems to stabilize their heartbeat for a proper supply of blood and oxygen in the body.
My grandmother had a pacemaker placed under her chest after a heart attack and continued living normally.
However, there have been a lot of myths, misconceptions, and arguments about pacemaker warnings.
I have heard different tales about pacemakers, so many of them are not true, and some are very debatable, but one that caught my attention was whether you could use a microwave if you have a pacemaker.
So, can you use a microwave if you have a pacemaker?
Yes, it is safe to use a microwave if you have a pacemaker but with some precautions. The pacemaker should not be exposed to intense microwave energy, which might make unwanted currents get into the pacemaker’s electric leads leading to malfunction.
Keep reading to know more about pacemakers, how they work, microwave effects on them, other devices that affect them, how far you should be from a microwave if you have pacemakers, and other safety guidelines for their users.
What Is a Pacemaker and how does it Work?
A pacemaker is a small medical device, also known as a cardiac pacing device, implanted in the chest to help the heart beat regularly. It’s connected to the heart by small wires that send tiny electric signals to the heart to help it function properly.
So, how exactly does the pacemaker work, and how can it regulate the heartbeat?
Pacemakers are good for people whose hearts beat too fast or too slow, those with irregular heartbeats, and people with blockages in their hearts. The tiny connected wires send electric charges to the heart to produce a heartbeat.
The pacemaker’s electrodes monitor your heartbeat and transmit the information to the battery-powered device through the wires. In case of any irregular heartbeat, the pacemaker creates electrical pulses that will help the heart adjust and function normally.
Effect of Microwaves on Pacemakers?
Microwaves pull a lot of currents which might be intercepted by small pacemaker circuits, causing malfunction or dysfunction. This isn’t so common but can happen with the continued use of microwaves if you have a pacemaker.
Microwaves might affect pacemakers if they have faulty protection and shielding devices. The magnetic radiation that microwaves leak, if not shielded properly, might lead to wire and circuit interferences making the pacemakers to malfunction.
The microwaves will affect the pacemakers differently depending on their make. My friend would pass out anytime he visited me because I had a big old microwave in my kitchen, and it took us a long to realize that was the cause.
Always seek advice from your doctor to know whether a microwave might affect your pacemaker. You need to read the precautions on your pacemakers to be aware to be conversant with them.
What Causes Microwave Interference in a Pacemaker?
1. Radio Frequency Interference
The microwaves work by high radiofrequency radiation and hence will experience more radiation leakage that might interfere with a pacemaker.
2. Magnetic Fields
Magnetic fields are emitted by microwaves which can distort the pacemaker’s programming.
Even though newer microwaves have magnetic shields, malfunctioning ones or those with shielding and filtration problems are not good if you have a pacemaker.
3. Electrical Noise
Electrical noise made by a microwave during switch on and off might also cause microwave interference in a pacemaker leading to malfunction.
Is New Pacemakers Safe Near Microwaves?
Advances in technology have helped newer pacemakers be safe near microwaves.
Pacemakers are currently made to protect themselves from radiation that microwaves leak. Newer pacemaker models have better shielding and filtering that protects them from microwaves’ leaking radiation.
While modern pacemakers are safe near a microwave, precaution is still of the essence. You must keep a safe distance and talk to your doctor if you experience strange symptoms while close to your microwave.
How far from a Microwave should you be with a Pacemaker
It is recommended that you should be about 2 inches from the microwave when you have a pacemaker.
In the past days of microwave technology, there was a serious concern about the distance because the shielding with pacemakers wasn’t good. In today’s world, provided the microwave radiation leakage is under five milliwatts (mW) per square centimeter, you’re good to use your microwave and be safe.
However, it is important to avoid exposing yourself to a microwave for a long time for safety purposes. Malfunctioning microwaves cannot shield radiations and hence will affect your pacemaker; hence you must take a lot of caution near them.
Symptoms that you will feel if Microwave is Affecting your Pacemaker
The common symptom you will feel if the microwave has affected your pacemaker are arrhythmia. Other symptoms like discomfort, chest pain, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, or dizziness might be present.
The microwaves produce strong magnets that might cause electromagnetic interference, which leads to the pacemaker malfunction. You could be at risk of heart attack or stroke if this continues for a long time; hence you need to talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Other Devices That Can Affect a Pacemaker
The other devices that can affect a pacemaker include security metal detectors, therapeutic radiators, anti-theft detectors, and magnetic wireless charging when placed too close to the pacemaker.
These devices produce electromagnetic waves that might affect your pacemaker. Going closer to the devices or long exposure will lead to pacemaker malfunction.
You need to ask your doctor about the devices that might cause serious threats to your pacemaker since they differ in composition and manufacture.
There have been a lot of technological advances in pacemakers and electronics that keep them safe. However, you need to know that different brands and companies make pacemakers, and hence you should ask your doctor about the safety precautions you need to take to protect your pacemaker.
Safety Guidelines for Pacemaker Wearers
1. Avoiding Security Detectors
When metal detectors are placed near pacemakers for a long time, the pacemakers might malfunction.
The magnets on the detectors might make your pacemaker work differently or temporarily halt them.
2. Avoid Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Machines
The MRI machines have larger magnetic fields, which may overheat the pacemaker affecting their functionality or programming. You can settle on other MRI alternatives to keep your pacemaker safe.
3. Avoid Diathermy
Treating muscles using heat is a physical therapy that might affect a pacemaker.
The heat might make the pacemaker defective or affect the wires.
4. Avoid Therapeutic Radiations
Therapeutic radiation from cancer treatments might affect pacemakers’ circuits. The increased radiation will make the device defective.
5. Turning off Large Automobiles
The large machines create high magnetic fields that might be intercepted by the pacemaker changing their programming.
6. Keeping Cell Phones Away from the Pacemaker
Most cell phones are safe since they’re below 3 watts, but avoid keeping them in the chest pocket or over the pacemaker to prevent any likely problems. Pick your calls on the opposite side of the device.
7. Always Carry Your Wallet ID
It is also recommended that you carry your wallet ID card to help you avoid contact with devices that might affect your pacemaker without questions.
My colleague walks through the security guards daily without being frisked by showing her wallet ID.
8. Inform your Doctor you have a Pacemaker or Wear Pacemaker Armband and Necklace
Certain medical procedures might disrupt the pacemaker’s functioning; hence, it is good for the doctor to be aware you have the device. The medical personnel will be able to stop the pacemaker temporarily to avoid malfunction only if they are aware.
I hope this piece will help you debunk some of the myths about pacemakers and whether using a microwave is okay if you have one. You can relieve yourself of the uncertainties and live a normal and safe lifestyle even with your pacemaker.