Harvard Women's Health Watch

Heart News: Pacemakers and mammograms

Heart News

Pacemakers and mammograms

Currently, some three million American women have pacemakers. If you have one — or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) — here's a word of caution for your next mammogram: Make sure the technician doing the scan knows you have a device to regulate your heart. Without this important piece of information, the wire connecting the device to the heart (called the lead) could be damaged.

This happened to a patient of Dr. Mark M. Sherman, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Springfield, Mass. As the woman's breast was being compressed between the two plates of the mammography machine during her annual mammogram, she suddenly cried out in pain. The mammography technician immediately stopped the procedure, waited until the pain subsided and the woman was all right, and then completed the scan.

Three months later, during a routine follow-up visit for her pacemaker, Dr. Sherman found that the pacemaker had stopped working the day of her mammogram. An x-ray revealed a small break in the lead (marked in red in the accompanying photo). Dr. Sherman wrote about the case in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (Oct. 27, 2005).

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