ICD Overview

An Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator, or ICD, is a battery-powered device that keeps track of your heartbeat and can deliver an electrical shock that will allow ventricular muscle fibrillation to return to a normal heartbeat.

Your cardiologist may recommend an ICD after an episode of arrhythmic sudden cardiac death, if severe heart failure is present, after a heart attack or myocardial infarction, or in cases of genetic disorders affecting ventricular rhythm. 

The implantation procedure typically lasts about half an hour, uses local anesthesia and mild sedation, and often requires 2 to 3 nights’ hospital stay.  During the procedure, the cardiologist will make a small incision under your collarbone and insert a catheter to access the heart. Insulated wires or leads are positioned in the heart. The leads are connected to the ICD device which is implanted beneath the skin in the upper chest. 

Now the  ICD can detect irregular heart rhythms, called arrhythmias, in the ventricles.  When the ICD detects a dangerous arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation, it sends a strong electrical impulse that ‘shocks’ your heart out of the dangerous rhythm and allows the normal heartbeat to resume. After the procedure, a nurse will check your scar twice a week and remove the stitches after 10 days.

Life with an ICD is normal. You can continue sports, driving, and all your usual activities. You will be given an identification card or passport as an ICD wearer. Keep fifty centimeters away from induction stove tops. MRI scans are usually possible, but the ICD requires a special setting before and after. Patients with ICDs are asked to announce themselves at airport security.

ICD implantation is a straightforward procedure when performed by experienced healthcare providers.  For patients at high risk of ventricular arrhythmia, ICDs can be life saving. Ask your doctor or your cardiologist for further details.

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