We recently received a call from a customer that wanted to know if there were any limitations to welding for individuals with a pacemaker or implanted defibrillator. I had never thought about it before and I didn’t know the answer. I decided to research it and share my findings with all of our readers and customers here on the blog. Since this is an important issue that affects many men and women, we thought we’d post this blog both here and on the Carmen Electrode blog.
Conclusion and Disclaimer
Since this is a very serious medical issue and we are not very serious medical people, we will post the most important conclusion of this blog post right up front: consult your doctor! Only your heart doctor can tell you what activities are dangerous, and how you should handle them. Welding is an activity that is considered dangerous, so read up on the resources we provide below, do your own research, and most importantly, call your doc! We provide resources and information that we’ve found in our research, but this is no replacement for your doctor’s expertise. They didn’t spend years in medical school for nothing.
The primary concern when welding with a pacemaker or defibrillator is the high electromagnetic (EM) energy created by the welding machine. This electromagnetic energy can cause your pacemaker to continuously pace the heart, which can cause an irregular heart rate if your heart is already beating fine on its own. On the other hand, the spike in EM energy when spot welding or starting a bead can cause a pacemaker to pause temporarily if it were pacing your heart. Both of these situations are not good. Implanted defibrillators could detect the EM energy from the welder as a fast heart rhythm, causing it to deliver shock (yikes!).
Interestingly, according to medtronic, the electromagnetic field created by a welding machine won’t cause any permanent damage or re-programming to your pacemaker or implanted defibrillator. The primary concern is how these devices behave in the presence of the intense electromagnetic energy. Any potential effects will end when the welding is stopped or turned off.
Another point to note is that Oxy-Fuel welding does not create an electromagnetic field, so it is safe to use with an implanted pacemaker or defibrillator.
How Can I Reduce The Risk?
Here’s a good list of precautions that we found from Medtronic:
- Limit welding current to less than 120 amps
- Work in a dry area with dry gloves and shoes
- Maintain a 2 foot distance between the welding arc and the heart device
- Keep the welding cables close together (twist them together if possible) and as far away as possible from your heart device
- Place the welding machine as far away as possible, and at least 5 feet away from your work area
- Wait several seconds between attempts when having difficulty starting a weld (don’t rapidly pulse the welder)
- Work in an area that offers firm footing and plenty of room for movement
- Work with an informed person that understands what you’re dealing with
- Immediately stop welding and step away from the area if you start to feel lightheaded, dizzy, or you believe your implantable defibrillator has delivered a shock