Heart Arrhythmias and Driving

Having an abnormal heartbeat -- your doctor may call it an arrhythmia -- often brings adjustments to everyday life. One such change could be a pause in your driving time.

Safe Driving Concerns

If you have an arrhythmia, you could faint behind the wheel. This could put you, other motorists, pedestrians, and property at great risk.

To figure out whether you can drive safely, your doctor will consider:

  • What type of arrhythmia you have
  • How serious yours is
  • The treatment you receive for it (if any)
  • How often you have symptoms and how serious they are

If you have no symptoms and you haven't had any serious heart rhythm problems, you should be able to drive as you always have. If meds keep your arrhythmia under control, your doctor may give you the green light to drive, too.

Driving After Treatment

In addition to meds to help manage your heart rhythm, two other treatments may be used. Both would keep you out of the driver's seat for a while:

Ablation: It uses radiofrequency energy or extreme cold to destroy a tiny area of heart tissue that causes your arrhythmia. This treatment will usually restrict you to the passenger's seat for about a week. It may keep you there longer, depending on your medical history.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator: ICDs are usually for serious cases of ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Usually after you get an ICD, you'll be asked not to drive for a week. If you got an ICD after fainting or surviving cardiac arrest, you may have to wait several months before you get back behind the wheel.

You can't drive commercially (as in a delivery truck or a taxi) at all if you have an ICD.

Limitations Based on Conditions

There are several types of arrhythmias. Some pose greater risks than others.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recommendations about driving for arrhythmias that can cause fainting.

Atrial fibrillation: There are no restrictions if your rhythm is well-controlled.

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia: You can drive as normal if you have no symptoms during your arrhythmia episodes.

Continued

If you had no symptoms during just your last episode and you're on medicine for your arrhythmia, you can drive after 6 months.

If you've had ablation for it, and you have no symptoms, you can go back behind the wheel after 6 months, as well.

Prolonged nonsustained ventricular tachycardia: No restrictions if you have no symptoms during episodes. If you're on therapy for them, with or without an ICD, you can drive after 3 months.

Sustained ventricular tachycardia: You may be able to drive after 3 months if you're on therapy with or without an ICD. If an ICD is the only therapy you're taking, you can usually get back behind the wheel after 6 months.

Other reasons you could lose consciousness include:

Vasovagal syncope: Fainting when frightened or distressed

Carotid sinus sensitivity: Causes fainting if there's pressure on the carotid arteries in your neck.

In most cases, neither condition requires treatment. As long as you avoid triggers, you should be able to drive as normal.

Talk With Your Doctor

Have an open conversation with him about if he thinks you should drive. Most importantly, be willing to abide by that recommendation for your safety and that of others on the road.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 16, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Living with an Arrhythmia.”

European Heart Journal: “Driving and arrhythmia: a review of scientific basis for international guidelines.”

Maine Department of Motor Vehicles: “Cardiovascular Disorders.”

American College of Cardiology: “When Is It Safe to Resume Driving After ICD Implantation.”

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: “Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers.”

American Heart Association: “Living with Your Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator.”

The BMJ: “Driving and arrhythmias.”

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