What is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator? (ICD)

Updated:Jun 7,2012

An ICD is a device placed under the skin that keeps track of your heart rate. Two thin wires connect the ICD to your heart. It sends electric signals to your heart if it is beating too slow, like a pacemaker. It can also deliver an electric shock to help restore a normal heartbeat to your heart if it is beating chaotically and much too fast. Cardiac defibrillation is a way to return an abnormally fast or disorganized heartbeat to normal with an electric shock.

How does it work?

  • The ICD goes under your skin, usually beneath your collarbone or in your abdomen (stomach area) beneath your ribs. It is connected to your heart by one or more wires called ‘leads.’
  • It knows when the heartbeat is not normal.
  • It tries to return the heartbeat to normal.
    • When your heartbeat is too slow, it works as a pacemaker and sends tiny electric signals to your heart.
    • When your heartbeat is too fast or chaotic, it gives defibrillation shocks to stop the abnormal rhythm.
  • It works 24 hours a day.

How do I live with it?

  • Visit your doctor regularly. ICD batteries last 4 to 7 years. Doctors should check them every 3 to 6 months.
  • Talk to your doctor about your activities.
  • Stay away from magnets and strong electrical fields.
  • At the airport, tell security screeners if you have an ICD. Ask the guards not to use hand-held metal detectors on you.
  • Tell your other doctors and your dentist that you have an ICD.
  • If you go to a hospital, tell the doctors and nurses that you have one.
  • Carry an ID card so others know that you have a defibrillator.

Doctor’s orders

You most likely can resume a near normal lifestyle. But, it is best to ask your doctor what types of machines or equipment you should avoid. Also ask what you can and cannot do when you have an ICD.

Can I use a cell phone or microwave oven if I have an ICD?

Microwave ovens, electric blankets, remote controls for TV and other common household appliances won’t affect your ICD. 

You can use a cell phone, too, if you take these steps:

  • Hold the phone to the ear on the side of your body opposite from your ICD.
  • When your phone is on, try to keep it at least six inches away from your ICD. For example, don’t carry your phone in your breast pocket over your ICD.

How can I learn more?

  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at StrokeAssociation.org.
We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

Does the shock hurt?

Can I swim?

©2012, American Heart Association 

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

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How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?