Running After Pacemaker

I would consider myself a good distance runner but, this last year or so I've been having trouble breathing while I was running. I went from running 5min 30sec a mile to barely breaking 7min 30sec a mile. There were a few other symptoms, such as lightheadedness, syncope, bradycardia, etc.., that lead to me seeing my Doctor and the diagnosis that I need a pacemaker. I am 24 year old male, and I am pretty nervous how I will feel after the operation.

I've read a lot on this forum and the internet in general, so far all I've read is how the pacemaker made people feel worse while working out after the operation and no one seems to have their settings correctly.

My questions is does the pacemaker limit how far one can push themselves in pursuit of being in the most elite shape possible?

Has anyone had a positive experience with working out after the operation?

I understand that I am not of the normal demographic that receives a pacemaker and that the pacemaker is supposed to improve the quality of my life but, as I stated before, I haven't found much literature on the internet that supports this statement.


14 Comments

Running After Pacemaker

by Ripple - 2007-06-05 03:06:27

I'll try to help your feeling about getting a pacemaker by giving my opinion on some of your questions.

"I am pretty nervous how I will feel after the operation." It may take a few weeks to a couple of months but the symptoms (lightheadedness, syncope, bradycardia, etc..;) you list should all be gone or at least 95% gone.

"My questions is does the pacemaker limit how far one can push themselves in pursuit of being in the most elite shape possible?" Not to my knowledge. I've never given a thought to that. I actually forget that I have a PM and go right ahead and push myself to the limits I had before I got a pacemaker. Actually, you may find that your limits are higher with the PM.

"The pacemaker is supposed to improve the quality of my life." It will, but it doesn't happen overnight. Your heart will accept the assist from the PM immediately. HOWEVER, the PM may not have the best settings for your heart initially and it sometimes takes a few tries to get what is best for you. A PM comes with factory settings and the doctor will usually alter those settings based on his knowledge of you and your life style. Even then it is trial and error so more often than not it takes a few tries to get things perfect.

Good luck,

Rip

Another 24-yr old

by carismendez - 2007-06-05 04:06:39

Hi there! I am also 24 (although admittedly not a male) and I am getting my pacemaker on Friday morning. I have all your symptoms too, and I have been through a lot with different medication therapies, but nothing is helping (and the side effects of meds are making me feel worse), so the pacemaker is supposed to make me be able to be "normal" again, ha ha, including workouts and exercise without having to worry about passing out afterwards. Good luck to you and let us know how you're doing!
-Constance

It will be O.K.

by LouLou - 2007-06-05 07:06:06

I had my first pacer fitted after ablation surgery didn't go to plan. With one husband, two kids and a mad dog I thoughy I would never recover. You just have to be firm and make sure that you keep going back to your doc or technician until you get the rate that,s right for you. I have read over the years on this site about people who still jog daily or run marathon's. A pacemaker will only hold you back if you allow it to. I had my first replacement 12/2005 and it scared the hell out of me, but time passes and you get used to it. I dont think you always accept it, but thank god science is a wonderful thing and we are here to tell the tale. I hope your op goes well and let me know how you get on. In a couple of weeks you be on the mend, but if it don't feel right keep complaining until you get what feels right . good luck. LouLou London

do some research

by tex127 - 2007-06-05 08:06:13

As a young, active person you might want to make sure your doctor or surgeon selects the most appropriate device for you. It sounds like your pacemaker is going to be controlling your heart rate, which means you want a really good activity sensor.

Most pacemakers use an "accelerometer" that detects motion. The more you move, the more your heart rate goes up. This works great for most people, except when you reach your anaerobic threshold. Some pacemakers have dual sensors, the most common being a Minute Ventilation sensor. This combines the motion detection accelerometer with your inspiration and expiration pattern to come up with a heart rate response during and after (in recovery) exercise.

Another suggestion is to consider a submuscular implant if you play any contact sports. Rather than being just under the skin, the device is buried in the muscle. Yes, it is a more complicated surgery and more painful recovery, but your device will be more protected and less visible of a "lump". It is possible to damage a pacemaker or the lead during contact sports, which can lead to infection and other complications.

running after pacemaker

by CathrynB - 2007-06-05 08:06:57

Hey Jsimon: So when are you getting your pacemaker? I'm lots older than you (50), female, and a short-distance runner compared to you (5-6 miles, 5-6 times a week), but I got my pacemaker 4 1/2 months ago, and I'm now back to running the distance, frequency and speed I was running before surgery. I've been a runner for 30 years. I also got my PM for bradycardia, sinus bradycardia, syncope and light-headedness. My doctor told me to take 6 weeks off running after getting the PM, and I did that. I know people on this wesite who went back to running sooner and were fine, and others who went back sooner and had a very difficult time and had to back off. I'd recommend taking the 6 weeks just to make sure your vigorously swinging arms don't dislodge the electrical leads. My PM completely solved my syncope and light-headedness. It took 3 visits over a 2-month period before they got the settings the way they are today, but I didn't have big problems with the original settings -- it's just that they're better now. I don't know your exact diagnosis, and I'm not a medical professional, but I found having my lower rate set at 50 bpm and sleep mode rate set at 45 bpm, and "rate response" off works well for me. My settings started out higher, but it meant my PM was working a higher percent of the time, which I didn't need, so my battery life would be shorter. Since I have no light-headedness or syncope at the lower bpm, I'm happier with that. I found getting back up to my pre-PM distance and speed took longer than I'd hoped, but I'm there now. The hardest part about recovery was not lifting my left arm above shoulder-height for 6 weeks -- but it's really important, as the last thing you want is another surgery to replace the leads and set your recovery back. I went on a 2 mile walk the day after surgery, a 4-mile walk 2 days later, and kept walking 4 miles almost every day until 2 weeks post op, at which point my doc said it was ok to do the stationary bike. The post-op pain was a lot less than I expected. I hope this information is helpful. Feel free to send me a private message if you want more. Take care, all the best wishes for your surgery and recovery, and please post again to let us know how it's going. Cathryn

Young one

by valerie - 2007-06-05 11:06:35

hi,
at first I was like, "why are you running after a pacemaker?! Did it roll down a hill or something?"
LOL jk
I'm 21 and got my PM when I was 20, and although I'm still recovering a bit, I feel my activity level going higher. So the fact that you are young will help you with your recovery process and I agree with all the comments above. Ask many questions on what you are getting exactly and dont worry if you dont feel 100% excellent right away, it takes time, mostly b/c they have to get the settings just right.
Anyway, you've come to the right place. Please keep us posted on how everything goes :)
take care,
~valerie

Running after pacemaker

by jsimon - 2007-06-06 12:06:40

Thanks everyone for the encouragement and positive words. This whole pacemaker thing is happening so fast and I've hardly had anytime to get prepared. All the information in the above comment has given me some great speedy input to ask my doctor tomorrow.

By the way, my surgery is tomorrow morning. I was told last Friday that it would be put in. I'll keep posting later on to let everyone know how things are going.

Again, Thanks a ton.

you'll be ok!

by runner77 - 2007-06-06 12:06:49

Hi JSimon,

I'm 30 years old, female, and very athletic. I compete in triahtlons and run marathons. I got my pacemaker last year for the same reasons as you. A month after the surgery I was already back in my training, and 3 months later I was racing. I did a half ironman later that summer and made a PB. I also did a PB 2 weeks ago at the Ottawa marathon, finishing the race under 3:09. I keep getting faster.

I had the same worries last year after my surgery. But the truth is, you'll feel even better and stronger with a PM because your heart will finally be fonctioning properly :-)

It might take a bit of time to fully recover from the surgery, but you'll feel great after.

Good luck tomorrow!!!

runner77

by axg9504 - 2007-06-12 08:06:46

I am assuming that you too had brady. and lightheadedness when running. Did this get worse in the sense that the onset of symptoms started earlier and earlier as time went on? Did you stay in brady. for a long time after you stopped running? Thanks.

Running after pacemaker

by elpannell - 2007-06-23 03:06:43

I usually recover normally after I stop running, in just a few minutes or seconds my heart rate (currently) drops from 100 as a max to the 40s or 50s. My breathing is recovery is not an issue for me.
--EL

runner77

by axg9504 - 2007-06-23 08:06:21

Please let us know how u are doing post PM. I'm 62 and my progression has been similar to yours over the last 4 years though. I couldn't run more than 8 minutes at 10:20 when this started before getting into dizziness/brady. Now it starts much sooner with just walking. You don't mention being out of breath due to a low heart rate for a long time after exercise which is my problem.

Running after pacemaker

by elpannell - 2007-06-23 12:06:37

I am 53 years old. Ran off and on my entire adult life. My last race in 2003 was my 1st marathon and was pleased with the outcome, a 3:33 finish. Months after the marathon I started experiencing "sudden exhaustion" events while running. For example after 45 mins of running, feeling good, then all my power left me and I would have no choice but to stop. These events would discourage and limit my training until I stopped running for several months. Every time I would return to running my “old enemy” would return. I finally realized my heart rate was dropping suddenly when these events occurred and begin seeing a cardiologist. The events became progressive over the months, this year after I began to regain my fitness, I did not have a "sudden exhaustion" event but rather one day when I step on my treadmill I could not go through my warm-up process. A few days later I understood why, I was sitting in a stress test room waiting for my turn and my heartbeat on the computer screen was fluctuating between 31 and 33. Then came the nuclear stress test. I walked and ran for 10:30 the target heart rate for me was at least 140 but my heart would not go above 100. I had to stop. I was exhausted. I have had several exams and tests and the bradycardia is the only thing considered abnormal. After the stress test I stopped running for about 3 weeks and my resting heart rate returned to 48-52 bpm range. I was referred to a 2nd cardiologist. After discussions, he invited me to get on his treadmill. I did and was able to run 12mins. This time they stopped the test. My heart rate hit the target within the 1st few minutes once I began to run. Recently I wore a holter monitor for 48 hours. Now I am scheduled for an appointment with my cardiologist to "discuss a pacemaker". Basically the situation I am in now is the more I train the lower my heart rate drops and the less I can do. I keep lowering my speed and shortening the time I run.
I am very much appreciative of this site and the shared experience many of you have had. I already have gotten a lot of questions answered and many doubts erased, but I do want to ask a few. Has anyone had bpm as low as mine yet returned to a normal running routine? One of my fears is my heart rate is so low that the pacemaker would be firing continuously. When I sleep I have measured my bpm several times in the middle 20's. It would seem annoying in the least to be awakened by the pacemaker boosting my rate up. Is this the way it is? And as someone mentioned in an earlier comment these frequent boosts will certainly shorten the battery life. Look forward to your comments on my situation. Dr. appt is July 2nd.
---EL

RUNNING

by KMOODY - 2007-08-01 09:08:40

GOT MY PACEMAKER 7/26/07.. AM 80 YEARS AND A RUNNER FOR 46 YEARS...STARTED WORKING AT GETTING MY LEGS BACK YESTERDAY FELT STRONG AND NO PAIN DISCOMFORT ANY PLACE LOOKING FORWARD TO MY FIRST 10 K WITH THE PACEMAKER.... THIS FORM IS GREAT GAVE SOME GOOD QUESTIONS TO ASK 8/2/07 WHEN I MEET WITH PACEMAKER NURSE.... THANKS KM

For what it's worth

by koconnor - 2007-09-29 01:09:33

I'm 41, have had my PM for two years, and run/swim about 15 - 20 miles per week. I used to do short course triathalons in my twenties and asked my doctor about maybe getting back into racing. He said he felt it was safe for me to do the training, but he didn't suggest the racing. He said the stress/excitement of the racing situation, coupled with maximum output for more than two hours probably was not healthy for my heart. He suggested shorter, less extreme events (like 5 or 10Ks instead of marathons) and more casual workouts rather than races. Knowing myself and how my heart has been working, it feels like good advice, and I am at peace with it. These days I work out for enjoyment and stress relief, and the chance to be outside. I find I don't NEED the races anymore; I've already won the big contest here.

So I guess my advice to you is to find a doctor whom you trust, and together make a plan that's right for YOU. Your overall health and well being is what's most important.

Good luck!

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