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Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
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Implantable cardioverter defibrillators

3-minute read

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

What does an ICD do?

An ICD, also sometimes called an AICD (automated implantable cardioverter defibrillator), sits under the skin near the heart. It monitors the heart's rhythm 24 hours a day and detects abnormal rhythms in the ventricles. These are the parts of the heart that pump blood around the body.

If the heart is beats too fast or too slow, or in an irregular way, 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. An ICD is similar to a pacemaker, which 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 during or after surgery.

Risks during the ICD procedure include:

  • bruising or bleeding from the wound
  • puncture of the lung causing an air leak

Risks after the procedure include:

  • need for the ICD wires to be repositioned
  • bleeding from the wound
  • a failure of the ICD to work
  • infection of the wound or wires

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 or megnetic 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 and power welders
  • avoid walking through archway metal detectors at airports (show airport staff your ICD identification card, which you'll receive after the surgery)
  • 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 trackers

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Last reviewed: April 2020

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