Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators (ICDs)

An implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) is a small electronic device installed inside the chest below the collarbone to prevent sudden death from cardiac arrest due to life threatening abnormally fast heart rhythms (tachycardias). The ICD monitors heart rhythm via leads or wires. When the heart is beating normally, the device remains inactive. If the heart beats too quickly, the ventricles will not have enough time to fill with blood and will not effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. Left unchecked, the rapid heartbeat could cause death. If the heart develops a life-threatening tachycardia, the ICD delivers electrical jolt to the heart to terminate the abnormal rhythm and return the heart rhythm to normal.

ICDs also can act as pacemakers when a heart beat that is too slow (bradycardia) is detected.

Most ICDs keep a record of the heart's activity when an abnormal heart rhythm occurs. With this information, the electrophysiologist, a specialist in arrhythmias, can study the heart's activity and ask about other symptoms that may have occurred. Sometimes the ICD can be programmed to "pace" the heart to restore its natural rhythm and avoid the need for a shock from the ICD. Pacing signals from the ICD are not felt by the patient; shock signals are, and have been described as a kick in the chest.

Implantable cardiac defibrillator also can act as pacemakers when a heart beat that is too slow (bradycardia) is detected.

Most ICDs keep a record of the heart's activity when an abnormal heart rhythm occurs. With this data, the electrophysiologist (a specialist in arrhythmias) can study the heart's activity and inquire about other symptoms that may have occurred. Sometimes, the ICD can be programmed to "pace" the heart to restore its natural rhythm and avoid the need for a shock from the ICD. Pacing signals from the ICD are not felt by the patient; shock signals can be felt as a kick in the chest.

Implantation of an ICD is similar to that of a permanent pacemaker. The procedure lasts 2-3 hours and is considered minor since, it does not involve major heart surgery. Patients are typically discharged from the hospital in 1- 2 days after the procedure. Once home, the patient can usually return to most activities.

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