What You Need To Know About An Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a small device that uses electrical shocks to help control life-threatening, irregular heartbeats. A common diagnosis that results in a defibrillator is called Sudden Cardiac Arrest or SCA which is when the heart suddenly stops beating. This is a critical diagnosis that can result in death if not managed quickly.

An implantable defibrillator may also be used to treat life-threatening arrhythmias that occur in the ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers). When an arrhythmia occurs, the heart can’t pump blood the way it needs to. The result can be passing out and even death. To prevent death, the condition must be treated right away with an electric shock to the heart. This treatment is called defibrillation.

An implantable defibrillator has wires with electrodes that connect to your heart. The defibrillator will keep track of your heart rate and use low-energy shocks if the heart experiences a problem. If the low energy shock does not work, it will begin to heighten the energy frequency to restore a normal heart rate.

This device differs from a pacemaker in that it can give off stronger shocks. Pacemakers are usually used for less critical diagnosis.


The type of ICD you get is based on your heart’s pumping abilities, structural defects, and the type of irregular heartbeats you’ve had. Whichever type of ICD you get, it will be programmed to respond to the type of irregular heartbeat you’re most likely to have.

Side Affects From An Implantable Defibrillator:

There can be some negative side effects, though most do not occur in patients.  Side affects include:

  • Insertion or incision site bleeding
  • Insertion site vessel damage and blockage
  • Incision site infection
  • Punctured lung resulting in air trapped between chest wall and lung (pneumothorax)
  • Bleeding around the heart (effusion)
  • Shocks delivered inappropriately for non-life threatening heart rhythms

How To Care For An Implantable Defibrillator:

  • Read on your device and follow all instructions.
  • Do not miss regular check-ups with your cardiologist to monitor your implant.
  • ICD batteries last 5 to 7 years.
  • Your doctor uses a special analyzer to detect the first warning that the batteries are running down before you can detect any changes yourself.
  • Eventually, your battery may need to be replaced in a surgical procedure. The replacement procedure is less involved than the original implantation procedure.  Your healthcare provider can explain it to you.
  • Feel free to take baths and showers. Your defibrillator is completely protected against contact with water.
  • Stay away from magnets and strong electrical fields, and inform airport or other screeners that you have an implantable defibrillator.
  • Tell your other doctors, nurses, medical technicians, hospital staffs and dentists that you have an implantable defibrillator before any medical procedures.


Central Georgia Heart Center

Central Georgia Heart Center

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