Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs)

Whenever you go to public place you have likely seen the signs for an AED or Automated External Defibrillator. These are life-saving devices that can prevent sudden cardiac death in those that experience ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. You’ve also seen them to depicted in movies – little paddles are attached to the chest and electrical pulses are sent into the body to shock the heart back into function and rhythm.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillators or ICDs are essentially the same thing but in an implantable form. This is used for people with heart failure or who may be at high risk for sudden cardiac death. The tiny device looks and works much like a pacemaker – monitoring the heart and checking for any abnormalities. If the ICD detects a problematic situation, it deploys a high-powered shock to restart the heart. Newer ICDs can also function as a pacemaker.

ICDs are typically reserved for patients who have a life-threatening arrhythmia that cannot be corrected by other means such as curative procedures or eliminating or treating underlying cardiovascular issues.

Of course, the primary benefit of the ICD is to offer the patient peace of mind that their heart is being monitored and there is a backup plan if something should go awry. However, there is always the potential for a false positive that leads to an unnecessary shock. This can be, of course, very uncomfortable and distressing but modern devices are more accurate than ever. The benefit that an ICD provides is tremendous – literally the potential difference between life or death.

The ICD is implanted much like a pacemaker with the pulse generator placed under the skin and leads threaded to the heart via the veins.

Also like a pacemaker, ICDs are typically no problem for an MRI. However, it is prudent to reduce your exposure to any appliances that may create interference including common household devices like microwaves and personal devices like your cell phone. You will receive comprehensive instructions on how to care for your ICD once it has been implanted.