Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, is a small device that helps the heart beat normally.

In a normal heart, electrical signals tell your heart to pump blood in a certain rhythm. If those electrical signals are disrupted, the rhythm can change. When this happens, your heart may not beat well enough to pump blood to all parts of your body. Some abnormal rhythms can cause sudden cardiac arrest. This can cause death.

An ICD is a small, battery-powered device that can give the heart an electrical shock. The device is put under the skin of your chest or belly. Flexible wires, called leads, run from the ICD to your heart. When the ICD detects an abnormal rhythm, it sends an electrical shock to your heart. This resets your heart's electrical signals so that it beats normally again.

You might need an ICD if you have certain dangerous abnormal heart rhythms or other medical conditions, like advanced heart failure.

Implanting an ICD

An ICD is implanted during minor surgery. Before surgery, you are given medication to make you sleep and to numb your chest.

Your health care provider makes a small cut in the skin of your chest or belly. The leads are threaded through a vein and into the heart. The ICD box is then placed just under your skin. It's tested, and then the cut is closed with stitches.

You may go home when your health care provider says it's OK. Your provider will give you specific instructions about follow-up care.

You may have mild pain, swelling, or tenderness where the ICD sits under your skin, until the area heals.

Most people return to their normal life within a few days. You'll need to avoid any heavy lifting or vigorous activity until the area heals completely, which usually takes about six weeks.

Living with an ICD

When you get a shock from your ICD, notify your health care provider as soon as possible. He or she may need to modify your treatment plan. The ICD keeps a record of your heart's electrical activity, which can help your provider guide your treatment.

Larger shocks can sometimes be painful. They can also be powerful, and cause you to fall down. If you feel your heart rhythm changing and think you may get an ICD shock, you should find a place to sit down.

The battery in your ICD will last from five to ten years. You'll need minor surgery to change the battery. In rare cases, the ICD will need to be replaced if it stops working. You may need surgery to replace the leads in about twenty years.

Let all of your health care providers know about your ICD. You may also want to carry an ID card or bracelet with information about your ICD.
Medical devices and other equipment with strong magnets or strong electrical fields can disrupt your ICD. Talk with your health care provider before you receive any imaging tests such as an M-R-I.

Things to Remember

You might need an ICD if you have certain abnormal heart rhythms.
The ICD sends a shock to your heart to reset the rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac arrest.
Tell all of your health care providers about your ICD.

What We Have Learned

Medical devices never disrupt ICDs. True or false? The answer is false. Some medical devices and other equipment with strong magnets or strong electrical fields can disrupt your ICD.

You may need to have the battery in your ICD replaced in five to ten years. True or false? The answer is true. The battery is changed with a minor surgery.