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Heart Rhythm Problems and Driving

Topic Overview

Are there driving restrictions for people with heart rhythm problems?

If you have an arrhythmia or an ICD that makes it dangerous for you to drive, your doctor might suggest that you stop driving, at least for a short time.

If you have an arrhythmia that doesn't cause significant symptoms, you don't have to stop or limit driving.

This topic is about driving private vehicles. For commercial driving, the government has specific regulations about driving when you have certain medical conditions.

Restrictions on the right to drive depend on several factors. Your doctor makes a recommendation based on:1

  • Any symptoms you may have had, like fainting.
  • The cause of your arrhythmia.
  • The likelihood that your arrhythmia will happen again.
  • If your arrhythmia has been treated successfully.
  • If your ICD has given you a shock for an arrhythmia.

Is it okay to drive if you have an arrhythmia?

You can drive with an arrhythmia as long as it doesn't cause symptoms that makes it dangerous for you to drive.

Your doctor might suggest that you not drive, at least for a short time, if you have symptoms, like confusion, dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness. If these symptoms happen when you are driving, you could cause an accident.

  • If your arrhythmia has made you pass out (lose consciousness), your doctor might recommend not driving until:
    • The arrhythmia has been treated successfully.
    • The arrhythmia has not happened again for a few months.
    • The cause of the arrhythmia has been identified and corrected.

Arrhythmias that might restrict the ability to drive include:

Is it okay to drive if you have an ICD?

If you get an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator), you will not drive for a short time after you get the device implanted. Depending on the reason you got the ICD, you may not be able to drive for a few months. Your doctor will let you know when you can drive again. Your doctor might follow these guidelines:2

  • If you get an ICD because you are at risk for a life-threatening arrhythmia (but have never had one), you will likely wait a few days after the implant procedure before driving again. This allows you time to heal. After you heal, you can drive again as long as your ICD has never given you a shock and you have no symptoms of an arrhythmia. But keep in mind that an arrhythmia could cause you to pass out (lose consciousness).
  • If you get an ICD because you have already had a life-threatening arrhythmia, you might have to wait at least 6 months before you drive again.
  • If you have an ICD that has given you a shock for an arrhythmia, you might have to wait at least 6 months before you drive again.

Is it okay to drive if you have a pacemaker?

You can drive if you have a pacemaker and you don't have any symptoms such as fainting. But right after you get a pacemaker, your doctor will likely ask you to not drive for at least a week after the device is implanted. This gives you time to heal.

References

Citations

  1. Epstein AE, et al. (1996). Personal and public safety issues related to arrhythmias that may affect consciousness: Implications for regulation and physician recommendations. A medical/scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology. Circulation, 94(5): 1147–1166.
  2. Epstein AE, et al. (2007). Addendum to Personal and public safety issues related to arrhythmias that may affect consciousness: Implications for regulation and physician recommendations: A medical/scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology. Public safety issues in patients with implantable defibrillators. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation, 115(9): 1170–1176.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Last Revised June 12, 2013

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