3 Questions About ICDs for Arrhythmia Treatment

July 21, 2016 7:00 AM

When the heart beats too quickly or too slowly, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator can help — improving function and possibly saving lives.

For individuals with arrhythmias, or an irregular heart rate in the lower chambers (ventricles), an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, can help.

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ICDs provide immediate therapy for what can be a life-threatening condition. The devices work by regulating heart rate through a painless pacing sequence or a jolt of electricity, a treatment called defibrillation, if the heart is beating too fast. They act as a pacemaker if the heart is beating too slow.

Despite its lifesaving capabilities, an ICD may bring questions, fear and anxiety for many patients. Here are three questions I’m often asked in my work as a device nurse for the department of cardiology/electrophysiology.

What about airport security scanners and other magnetic devices? Will they interact with my ICD?

External electromagnetic or radiofrequency signals can impact an ICD, so patients should not stand in or near the doorway of stores with electronic theft-detection devices or in airport security areas. Instead, show your ICD identification card and ask to be hand searched at airports or other places with electronic security areas (sports venues, etc.).

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Cellular telephones shouldn’t be held on the side where your ICD has been implanted. Instead, use your opposite ear when talking.

X-rays, including mammograms, are permitted.

Can I drive with an ICD?

Yes, you may drive with an ICD. If you pass out with or without an ICD shock, however, most state laws prohibit driving for six months after a syncopal event. Discuss this issue with your health care provider to keep you and those around you safe.

Can I play sports or exercise?

Some patients may be advised by their doctors to avoid participating in contact sports to prevent damage to the ICD. Other athletic activities, however, may be permitted if the patient’s overall heart function can tolerate the activity.

The bottom line: Individuals with an implantable device can live a full life with some precautions as recommended by their health care providers.

Some individuals find it helpful to join a support group where they can share experiences with others and develop a support network. Local hospitals and community centers may provide information about support groups for individuals and their caregivers.