Q. Will sex mess up my pacemaker?

Only if powerful magnets are involved. Seriously, your pacemaker is safe.

Modern pacemakers are stable devices, 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.

Cell phones. I found a variety of opinions on this. 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.

Newer cell phones that use new frequencies might make pacemakers less reliable. This subject is being researched by cell phone companies. The old cliche is appropriate: better safe than sorry.

Modern pacemakers have built-in protection from most types of interference produced by everyday electrical appliances. The following don't create problems and you shouldn't worry about being around them if you have a pacemaker:

• Microwave ovens

• Televisions and their remote controls

• Dental equipment

• Radios

• Toasters

• Electric blankets

• CB radios

• Heating pads

• Stereos

• Vacuum cleaners

• Hair dryers

• Gardening machinery

• Electric shavers

• Food processors

• Computers

• Copy machines

• Shop tools.

Always inform all healthcare professionals that you have a pacemaker before receiving any treatment. And always carry an identification card that informs people that you have a pacemaker.

There are more than 3 million artificial pacemakers in use today. They are devices that help the heart beat in a regular rhythm when its natural pacemaker isn't working. One of the most common problems requiring a pacemaker is "bradycardia," a heart rate that's too slow. This can be brought on by age.

An implanted electronic pacemaker is made up of a pulse generator and leads. The leads are flexible, insulated wires that deliver the electrical pulses to your heart. The pulse generator is a small metal container that houses a battery and the electrical circuitry that regulates the rate of electrical pulses sent to your heart.

Surgery to implant the pacemaker is usually performed under local anesthesia and typically takes less than three hours. The pulse generator is usually implanted under the skin beneath your collarbone. Some models are as small as a quarter.

[In our next column, we'll discuss implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)].

All Rights Reserved © 2008 by Fred Cicetti