Mark Turner Consultant Cardiologist

The Heart Centre Spire Bristol Hospital, The Glen
A Centre of Excellence for Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery

Diving with Heart Rhythm problems or Pacemakers

It is possible for divers to return to SCUBA diving after heart rhythm problems. Common problems include atrial fibrillation, ablations and pacemaker implantation. Many divers can return to diving if they have atrial fibrillation. A thorough cardiac assessment is needed to look for the underlying cause of the problem and to estimate the risk of it occurring underwater, and if it does occur, the risk of the diver coming to harm.

After atrial fibrillation ablations it can be necessary to look for a right to left shunt (as occurs in PFO), as the procedure of the ablation actually makes a small “hole in the heart”, that could increase the risk of decompression illness. These small holes usually heal up (unlike PFOs), but this needs to be confirmed.

Dr Turner has helped many divers to get back into the water after having suffered atrial fibrillation. Some have undergone ablation and some are managed with drug treatments.

It is possible to dive with a pacemaker. St Jude Medical certify their pacemakers to 7 Bar, and the UKSDMC allow diver to go to 50 metres with these pacemakers, so long as the risks associated with the underlying condition are fully assessed and so long as the diver is not totally dependent on the pacemaker.

In all cases each diver is assessed as an individual and after assessment Dr Turner will discuss whether diving is possible, if alterations in diving practise are needed to mitigate risk and whether there are excess risks, so the diver can make an informed decision.