Living With Your Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

Updated:Dec 21,2016

The American Heart Association understands that living with an ICD can be scary, especially if you made the decision quickly due to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). You need to know that you are not alone or without support.

Fortunately, research has shown that ICDs can improve quality of life and extend life. You may live more confidently with an ICD by understanding more about the conditions that led to implantation, the device itself and what to expect from having it.

Learn more about living with your ICD

Underlying conditions

It is important for you to be aware that an ICD does not change the underlying condition that leads to implantation of it. Whether due to heart failure or genetic risk for sudden cardiac arrest, an ICD is implanted to help prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

While using an ICD does not reverse heart disease or alter a gene, it does reduce your risk of cardiac arrest. You should also follow your doctor’s instructions for treating your underlying conditions.

It is important for you to be aware that an ICD does not change the underlying condition that leads to implantation of it. Whether due to heart failure or genetic risk for sudden cardiac arrest, an ICD is implanted to help prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

While using an ICD does not reverse heart disease or alter a gene, it does reduce your risk of cardiac arrest. You should also follow your doctor’s instructions for treating your underlying conditions.

Medications are part of your treatment plan that includes your ICD, so take medications exactly as instructed.

  • Make sure you understand your device and all instructions.
  • Your ICD should be checked regularly to find out how the wires are working, how the battery is doing, and how your condition and any external devices have affected the ICD’s performance.
  • Your doctor may check your ICD several times a year by office visit, over the phone or through an Internet connection.
  • ICD batteries last 5 to 7 years.
  • Your doctor uses a special analyzer to detect the first warning that the batteries are running down, before you can detect any changes yourself.
  • Eventually your ICD or battery may need to be replaced in a surgical procedure. The replacement procedure is less involved than the original implantation procedure.  Your healthcare provider can explain it to you.
  • Feel free to take baths and showers. Your ICD is completely protected against contact with water.
  • Stay away from magnets and strong electrical fields, and inform airport or other screeners that you have an ICD.
  • Tell your other doctors, nurses, medical technicians, hospital staffs and dentists that you have an ICD.
     

  • Follow the restrictions on activity and any other recommendations from your healthcare professional.
  • Allow about eight weeks for your ICD to settle firmly in place. During this time, avoid sudden, jerky or violent actions that will cause your arm to pull away from your body.
  • Avoid causing pressure over the area of your chest where your ICD was put in.
  • Women may find it more comfortable to wear a small pad over the incision as protection from their bra strap.
  • Car, train or airplane trips should pose no danger. However on rare occasions, ICDs have caused unnecessary shocks during long, high-altitude flights.
  • You cannot drive commercially when you have an ICD.
  • While you can probably drive about a week after your implantation surgery, your doctor will be the one to give you a green light. If you received an ICD due to certain conditions – such as having had sudden cardiac arrest or fainting – your doctor may ask you to wait until several months after you last fainted before driving again. Fainting is a possibility even after implantation of an ICD.
  • Be physically active every day. Do whatever you enjoy – take a short walk or just move your arms and legs to help your circulation.
  • Ask your healthcare professional about how and when to increase activity. Typically you should wait one month at least before lifting heavy items or doing any high-impact activity. Ask your physician about engaging in full-contact sports that could damage or dislodge your ICD or wires.
  • You may be able to perform all of you normal activities within a few days of surgery other than the heavy lifting and high-impact activities as mentioned previously. Once your physician allows it, you can probably even return to strenuous activities. Always ask your doctors.
  • Don't overdo it — quit before you get tired. The proper amount of activity should make you feel better, not worse.
     

Don't leave home without it.

  • Download a printable Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) Wallet ID card.
  • Always keep it with you in case of accident so emergency personnel can treat you appropriately.
  • Security devices in public places may detect the metal in your ICD, although they won't damage it. Showing your card may save you some inconvenience.
  • Consider also getting an I.D. bracelet or necklace for additional security and convenience.
     

After ICD implantation, you may feel anxious or depressed. This is not uncommon for ICD recipients, especially in the first months or year after implantation. Unfortunately, it is uncommon for patients to seek help for their anxiety and depression. If you experience these feelings, or even anticipate them, consult with your doctor or healthcare team and get help. There is no reason to feel embarrassed by or alone with your feelings. By asking questions and expressing your concerns about the ICD and your reactions to it, you might prevent or alleviate potential anxiety or depression.

Exposure to a traumatic life-or-death experience is a key to diagnosing PTSD. You may not think of yourself as having PTSD, but having sudden cardiac arrest, multiple shocks or other near-death situations can certainly bring about PTSD symptoms. Do not hesitate to discuss your feelings regarding the trauma with your healthcare team. Your mental and emotional well-being is important to your physical well-being.

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This content was last reviewed September 2016.

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