Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)


What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)?

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a small device implanted in your chest or abdomen. Small wires (leads) connect the ICD to your heart. An ICD treats abnormally fast heart rates or rhythms (arrhythmias), especially those that can cause your heart to stop beating.

And ICD also may be called an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (AICD).

When the heart develops an irregular rhythm, an ICD gives your heart a small electrical charge to restore a normal heartbeat. ICDs can also provide a stronger shock to your heart if a dangerous arrhythmia occurs. In these life-threatening arrhythmias, your heart quivers instead of beating, which can lead to syncope (fainting) or sudden cardiac death.

Are You a Candidate for an ICD?

Before you get an ICD, your doctor may do tests, such as an electrophysiology study. This test can help determine if you have a type of heart rhythm problem that the defibrillator can treat.

If needed, most ICDs also function as pacemakers, implanted devices that regulate heartbeat. We can custom-program the ICD to help ensure that your heart beats in a regular pattern to best treat your condition.

ICDs: Advanced Technology for Arrhythmia Care

ICD technology is constantly advancing. We use the latest devices to help relieve your symptoms of arrhythmia and help you live an active life. Learn more about arrhythmias and pacemaker implant.

World-Class Care

Expertise in Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) Procedures

At Aurora, our heart specialists offer you:

  • ICD expertise: We’ve been part of many research studies that have helped advance the development of ICDs. Our experience in implanting these defibrillators and managing your care afterward means that you can expect top results.
  • Fellowship-trained surgeons: Several of our surgeons participated in fellowships after their initial medical training. That means they are among the most highly trained heart and vascular specialists in the country.
  • Coordinated care: Because we’re a health system with many different hospitals and clinics, you can have your ICD procedure at several convenient eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois locations.

Preparing for Treatment

How to Get Ready for Your Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) Procedure

Your Aurora surgeon will give you personalized instructions on how to get ready for your procedure. Here’s how we typically ask people to prepare:

Before You Leave Home

Don’t eat or drink anything after midnight on the night before your implantation procedure. Before you come in:

  • Your doctor will talk to you about whether and when to discontinue any of your medications.
  • Wear comfortable clothes to the hospital. We’ll ask you to change into a gown before your procedure.
  • Ask someone to give you a ride to the hospital and home after your implantation procedure.

What to Expect

What Happens When I Get an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)?

You’ll come to an Aurora lab or a special surgical suite for your ICD implantation. In most cases, we’ll have your ICD installed and working in about two hours. You’ll most likely be awake for the procedure.

During the procedure:

  • We’ll insert an intravenous (IV) line into your arm.
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) machine will help us monitor your heart’s electrical activity during the procedure.
  • We generally implant your ICD just below your collarbone, on your non-dominant side. (That means if you’re right-handed, we typically insert the device on your left, and vice versa.) To prepare the site, we’ll disinfect and possibly shave a small area on your upper chest.
  • Two electrophysiologists (doctors who specialize in the heart’s electrical system) will perform your procedure. X-ray images help your medical team determine precisely where to place the ICD wires (leads). Each lead connects the appropriate section of your heart to a small generator.
  • The implantation process generally is not painful.

When the Procedure Is Complete

After your ICD is in place, we’ll monitor your heart using an EKG to be sure the device is custom-programmed and working properly. We’ll keep you in the hospital for several hours, or perhaps overnight, to make sure you’re recovering well.

We may ask you to wear a sling on the arm that is close to your defibrillator as a reminder to be careful while you recover. If you work, you may want to take a few days off to rest and recover.


Recovering from an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) Implantation

You might feel a bit sore right after the procedure, but the pain will go away with time. Talk to your doctor about which pain medications you can safely use.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Follow-up appointments: It’s important for you to keep these appointments. Your doctor needs to test and, if necessary, reprogram your ICD to be sure it works well for you.
  • Remote monitoring: Your ICD will automatically transmit information about your heart rate to our monitoring team. We will still need to see you in person from time to time.
  • Activity: Your doctor will provide guidelines on types of safe exercise for the first few months after your implant. Over time, you should be able to be as active as you like.
  • Special needs: Most people with ICDs find that they can live their lives with greater confidence, knowing that their device is safeguarding their health. However, having an ICD can be an adjustment, too. For instance:
    • You’ll need to tell medical and dental professionals that you have an ICD.
    • You should alert airport screeners that you wear an ICD.
    • You should carry an ID card that notifies people that you have an ICD, in case of an emergency. Ask your health care provider or print a copy from the American Heart Association’s website.

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