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Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
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Implantable cardioverter defibrillators

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An implantable cardioverter defibrillator is a small battery-operated medical device. It is put in the body and connected to the heart to correct abnormal rhythms of the heart. It is also called an ICD.

What does an ICD do?

An ICD, also sometimes called an ACID (automated implantable cardioverter defibrillator), detects abnormal rhythms in the ventricles. These are the part of the heart that pump blood around the body.

If the heart is beating too fast or too slow, or in an irregular way, then blood won’t be pumped properly. Sometimes, an abnormal rhythm can make it too hard for the heart to pump blood at all.

An ICD delivers a small electric shock to correct the problem. A pacemaker is similar to an ICD but is used to control slow heartbeats that start in the other main parts of the heart, the atria.

Do I need an ICD?

You might need an ICD if you have an abnormally fast or irregular heartbeat. Your doctor would probably arrange for you to have tests first like an ECG or echocardiography to see how your heart is beating.

If you are worried about your heart, see a doctor. Your doctor will discuss treatment options. Some people find that medication is effective.

How is an ICD fitted?

The ICD is inserted by surgery under the skin of your upper chest. You would probably have a local anaesthetic and a sedative to relax you before surgery but some people have a general anaesthetic.

What are the complications and risks of an ICD?

Things can go wrong with any surgery. With an ICD, you could get:

  • bruising or bleeding from the wound
  • infection
  • puncture of the lung causing an air leak
  • a failure of the ICD to work.

Living with an ICD

You can get back to normal pretty quickly after surgery. For the first month, it’s best not to do anything too strenuous or lift your arm above shoulder level.

If you have an ICD, you need to watch out for electrical interference and are advised to:

  • use your mobile phone on the opposite side of the body to the ICD
  • keep headphones to MP3 devices at least 15 cm from your ICD
  • avoid electrical appliances with a strong energy field such as arc welders
  • talk to your doctor before having any medical or dental procedures or tests.

There is little or no risk to your ICD from the following devices:

  • microwave ovens
  • televisions
  • remote controls
  • AM/FM radios
  • computers and related hardware
  • GPS.

Last reviewed: March 2016

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