3 Questions About ICDs for Arrhythmia Treatment

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

7:00 AM

Author | Helen McFarland, R.N.

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

SEE ALSO: Debunking Cardiac Rehab Myths: Why Some Patients Don't Go (and Why They Should)

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.).

SEE ALSO: 5 Years Later, 'Life is Good' for One of Michigan's First TAVR Patients

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.

More Articles About: Heart Health Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythms Cardiovascular: Diseases & Conditions
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories
Health Lab
5 Tips to Combat ICD Anxiety
A U-M social worker shares tips to help patients adjust to living with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
Health Lab
Health Advice for Women with Defibrillators
Although both genders are at equal risk of arrhythmia, women face unique challenges from a corrective ICD device. Here’s what to know.
Illustration of an EKG printout showing premature ventricular contractions
Health Lab
Premature Ventricular Contractions Could Lead to a More Serious Heart Condition
Premature ventricular contractions are a relatively common type of arrhythmia in adults and children. Learn more about PVC treatments, PVC symptoms & PVC causes.
Health Lab
Mother-son heart bond: Woman relives congenital heart journey through newborn
A mother relives congenital heart journey through newborn.
Health Lab
Protecting heart health during pregnancy
Experts discuss pregnancy and heart health.
heart organ yellow blue
Health Lab
Around 10% of deaths from coronary stenting, balloon angioplasty are preventable
Around 10% of all deaths following percutaneous coronary intervention are potentially preventable, a study led by Michigan Medicine finds.