An implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, is a device that helps treat abnormal heart rhythms using electrical impulses.

What is an ICD?

An Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) is a life-saving device that helps to fix fast, abnormal heart rhythms. The ICD sends electrical impulses to the heart to slow down the fast heart rhythm and return it to normal. ICDs consists of two parts: the defibrillator and leads. The device sits under the skin on the left or right side of your chest, where it monitors your heart rhythm 24 hours a day.

Why do I need an ICD?

A healthy heart has a steady, regular rhythm. In some people, the heart's rhythm can be disrupted and beat too fast, or too slowly. This is a disorder known as an arrhythmia, and it can occur due to:

  • Aging
  • Inherited or genetic causes
  • Previous heart attack
  • Heart muscle or heart valve problems

You could be at risk of arrhythmia if you have had coronary artery disease, heart failure, or issues with your heart's structure or 'electrical system.' If you've had a fast arrhythmia, or are at risk of having one, then your doctor might recommend an ICD for you.

ICDs treat abnormally fast heartbeats with pacing and defibrillation. First, an electrical signal will be sent to slow down your rapid heartbeat. If the heartbeat can't be slowed down, then a robust electrical impulse, called a shock, is delivered. While this sounds scary, remember that it's a necessary step to bring your heart rate back to normal and save your life.

After Surgery

You will usually stay in the hospital overnight and go home the next day with instructions on caring for your incision. Your doctor will provide more detailed information, but most individuals can expect to return to their everyday activities shortly after the procedure gradually.

After an ICD system implant, your doctor may want to limit how much you move the arm that is closest to your implant site, for a short time after implant. There may be a slight bulge visible under the skin where the device is located. The leads are very thin and will not be visible.

Each individual's experience may be different. Talk to your doctor for specific information regarding the implant of an ICD.

Replacing Your ICD

Implantable heart devices are designed to provide therapy for years, but eventually, you may need to have your device replaced.

During an ICD replacement procedure or generator change, your doctor will make a new incision over the old one and then remove the old ICD. He or she will then disconnect and check the leads to determine if replacement of the leads is also necessary; they may or may not be removed.

The leads are connected to the new ICD, and its function is tested. The new ICD is then inserted, and the incision is closed. Finally, the device's therapies are programmed.

When you get your ICD replacement, you may receive a newer model with new features and technologies.

When it's time to replace your ICD, or if your heart condition changes, talk to your doctor about different devices and their features. Only your doctor can determine what's right for you.

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