An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a small, battery-operated device. It tracks the heart’s rhythm and delivers appropriate treatment. Most ICDs have both pacemaker and defibrillator functions. If the heart beats too slowly, the ICD can help the heart beat at a normal pace. If the heart starts to beat in a disorganized way, it delivers a shock to restore a normal rhythm. ICD implantation is the surgical placement of an ICD.
Implanted Cardioverter Defibrillator
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Certain heart rhythms are very dangerous and can lead to cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death. Some irregular rhythms that may need an ICD implant:
ICDs are implanted in those who:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review possible problems such as:
Your chances of problems are higher for:
You may have:
Leading up to your procedure:
To implant the ICD, light sedation and local anesthesia are usually used.
After the ICD is in place, it will need to be tested. General anesthesia will be used for this step.
The area where the ICD is to be implanted will be cleaned. A small cut will be made below the collarbone on the left or right side.
A wire, called a lead, will be threaded through a vein in the upper chest to the heart. X-rays will be used to watch the lead move through the vein to the heart. The signals between the heart and the ICD will be carried on this lead.
A pocket is made where the skin was cut. The ICD will be implanted into the pocket.
When the ICD is in place, the sedation will be increased. The ICD will be tested to make sure that it shocks the heart properly. Every precaution will be taken to ensure that this is a safe process. The cut will be stitched when the ICD is working properly and in the right place.
You will be taken to a recovery room. Your pulse, blood pressure, and wound will be checked regularly. Chest x-rays will ensure the ICD and leads are in the proper place.
About 1-3 hours
You may feel some pushing and tugging on the skin. The anesthesia will keep pain to a minimum. You may notice some pain or stiffness around the wound. Pain medicines will ease pain afterward.
The day after your implant, you will have an ECG and blood tests. The ICD function may be checked again. You may be sedated.
To help with healing:
You will get an ID card that has important information about your ICD. It’s important that you show this card to any doctor, nurse, dentist, or other healthcare staff at the beginning of an office visit or hospital admission.
If your heart needs a shock from your ICD, you may be able to feel it. You may feel lightheaded before the shock. This is from the heart rhythm. The shock given by the ICD may feel like a light thump or a strong kick in the chest. If you feel a shock, try to stay calm. Sit or lie down. If someone is with you, ask them to stay. If you feel okay after the shock, call your doctor’s office to let them know. This is not an emergency. Your doctor may want you to come in for a visit, especially if this is the first shock you’ve had. If you get multiple shocks in a row or multiple shocks in a day, go to the emergency room.
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:
Call emergency medical services for:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator. Heart Rhythm Society website. Available at: https://www.hrsonline.org/Patient-Resources/Treatment/Implantable-Cardioverter-Defibrillator. Accessed July 3, 2018.
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116558/Implantable-cardioverter-defibrillator-ICD . Updated June 29, 2018. Accessed July 3, 2018.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD). Stanford Health Care website. Available at: https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-treatments/i/icd.html. Accessed July 3, 2018.
Pacemakers. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906162/Pacemakers . Updated January 11, 2018. Accessed July 3, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 7/3/2018