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.

7:00 AM

Author | Laura Horwood, M.S., ACNP-BC

An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, or ICD, is an electronic device that provides immediate, lifesaving therapy for the abnormal heart rhythm known as arrhythmia.

LISTEN UP: Add the new Michigan Medicine News Break to your Alexa-enabled device, or subscribe to our daily audio updates on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Slightly smaller and thinner than a pager, an ICD can detect an arrhythmia and deliver an electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat. It can also act as a pacemaker if the heart is beating too slowly.

Men and women are equally at risk for developing arrhythmias. For adults, the most common cause is coronary artery disease leading to ischemic cardiomyopathy, which occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

When it comes to ICDs, however, women have several related risks and concerns unique to their bodies.

Here are a few questions I hear often and the advice I give:

Can I have routine mammograms with an ICD?

Depending on your ICD placement, the device may interfere with imaging of breast tissue and may require additional testing for optimal results, such as a possible follow-up ultrasound.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Further, the presence of an ICD (typically in the left or right upper chest area), may make the imaging of the breast more uncomfortable, but it will not cause damage to the device.

Can I wear a bra after my ICD is implanted?

Yes. Depending on your ICD placement, a bra strap may feel uncomfortable on your new incision. Women with large breasts may feel the weight of their breasts causes discomfort at the incision site; a bra or a larger sports bra can be helpful.

If the bra strap is an issue, temporary use of a feminine napkin placed along the bra strap can provide a cushion to prevent the strap from rubbing or placing undue pressure on the fresh implant site.

Are there options for ICD placement?

If you have concerns about the placement of your ICD, this should be discussed with your electrophysiologist prior to the device implant or generator replacement.

SEE ALSO: What to Expect at Airport Security with a Defibrillator

Many times, a plastic surgeon will need to be consulted, depending on the placement options that are considered — such as under the breast, armpit area or in the upper chest and under the muscle or abdominal areas.

Traditionally, devices are placed subcutaneously (under the skin and fat tissue) in the upper left or right chest area.

Can I get pregnant with an ICD?

Yes. If you are planning to become pregnant it is recommended that you discuss this with your cardiologist or electrophysiologist. You may require medications that are not recommended during pregnancy.

Depending on your underlying health condition, becoming pregnant may put your own safety and well-being at risk. Further, if your condition was inherited, you may want to consider genetic counseling and testing to understand possible risks for your offspring.

However, many women have successfully become pregnant and undergone natural childbirth.

More Articles About: Heart Health Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythms Heart Disease Risk Factors Patient Safety 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 Provider takes a pulse oximetry reading from a patient's finger
Health Lab
Inaccurate pulse oximeter readings could limit transplants, heart pumps for Black patients with heart failure
Racially biased readings of oxygen levels in the blood using pulse oximeters may further limit opportunities for Black patients with heart failure to receive potentially lifesaving treatments, such as heart pumps and transplants
Hallie Prescott talking while sitting at a panel table with two individuals.
Health Lab
How do we reduce sepsis nationwide?
Hallie Prescott of the Michigan Medicine Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine is providing guidance at the state and national level to reduce the burden of sepsis in hospitalized patients.
Illustration of a magenta heart with white plaque on a golden background.
Health Lab
What is heart disease?
Tanuka Piech, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center, answers questions about heart disease, why we should care and what we can do to help prevent it.
Woman sweating hot flash fan
Health Lab
Menopause and migraines: New findings point to power of prevention
Women who have both migraines and a long-term history of hot flashes and/or night sweats have a slightly higher risk of heart disease and stroke, and young women who have migraines have a higher risk of later persistent menopause symptoms.
News Release
Statewide cardiovascular consortium, hosted at Michigan Medicine, receives national award for patient safety, quality efforts
A collaborative partnership dedicated to improving statewide cardiovascular care and outcomes — hosted at Michigan Medicine — received national recognition for efforts in patient safety and quality. BMC2 received the award for its significant improvements in the documentation of radiation use, a decrease in high-dose radiation exposure and reduction in opioid prescribing rates for patients.
Animated illustration of weight loss drug container with a heart
Health Lab
Should heart patients consider taking weight loss medications?
Cardiologist shares how weight loss medications may impact cardiovascular health.