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Learning About Implantable Heart Monitors

Location of heart monitor under skin of upper chest, with detail of monitor

What is an implantable heart monitor?

An implantable heart monitor is a small device placed under the skin of your chest. It records the electrical signals from your heart. A monitor is used to look for irregular heartbeats. It can help your doctor find out what is causing your fainting, light-headedness, or other symptoms. It also can help your doctor check to see if treatment for an irregular heartbeat is working.

The monitor may be placed near your collarbone or near the middle of your chest. Where it's placed depends on the size and type of device. The monitor may be about the size of a small pack of chewing gum or a paper clip.

These monitors are used if an irregular heart rhythm or your symptoms don't happen very often. They also help your doctor monitor your heart for a long time.

Implantable heart monitors are safe to use. No electricity is sent through your body. So there is no chance of getting an electric shock.

How is the monitor put in place?

The monitor is put in during a short surgery. You will get medicine to numb the area of your chest where the monitor will be put in. You will be awake during the surgery, but you shouldn't feel any pain.

Your doctor will make a small cut and place the monitor under your skin. Then he or she will close the cut with special tape or glue or with stitches that will dissolve. Then the doctor will place a bandage over the cut.

The procedure will take about half an hour. You probably will be able to go home soon after it's done.

You may have some minor pain where the cut was made. You will get instructions from your doctor on how to care for it at home.

When your doctor says it's safe, you should be able to get back to your normal activities.

What can you expect when you have a monitor?

Your monitor may start recording on its own when it detects an abnormal heartbeat. Or you might use a hand-held device to start the monitor when you have symptoms. Your doctor will explain which type of monitor you have and what you need to do.

Your doctor will tell you how often he or she will need to check your monitor. The information from your monitor may be sent to your doctor automatically. Or you may have to do something to send it. It may be sent over a phone line or through the internet. You will get instructions from your doctor. Your information will stay private and secure. You will also have checkups in person.

You may need to keep a symptom diary while you have the monitor. This means that you will write down the times you have symptoms and what you were doing when they started. Your doctor will let you know how to do this. He or she can then look at your heart monitor records to see if your heart rhythms changed when you had symptoms.

You may have the monitor for months or even years. It depends on how long it takes to record irregular heartbeat episodes. It also depends on how long your doctor wants to monitor your heart.

After your doctor gets the information he or she needs, the monitor will be removed from your chest.

What else should you know about living with a heart monitor?

You will get a medical ID card with information about your heart monitor. Keep it with you at all times.

You can safely use most household and office electronics such as kitchen appliances, electric power tools, and computers. You will need to stay away from things with strong magnetic and electrical fields. These include MRI machines (unless your heart monitor is safe for an MRI), welding equipment, and power generators. You can use a cell phone, but keep it at least 15 centimetres away from your heart monitor.

Your doctor or the maker of your heart monitor can give you a full list of things to avoid.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness around the cut.
    • Red streaks leading from the cut.
    • Pus draining from the cut.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have any problems with your heart monitor.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter E644 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Implantable Heart Monitors".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.