A defibrillator (also known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or ICD) is a medical device implanted in your chest or abdomen to monitor your heart rate. If your heartbeat becomes dangerously fast or slow, the defibrillator delivers a shock to help restore the heart's normal rhythm.
Like pacemakers, implantable defibrillators have two basic parts:
- The main unit, which contains a battery and a tiny computer
- Leads, which are one or more wires threaded through the veins to the heart
There are several different types of defibrillators available, and your doctor will discuss with you which option is the best for treating your specific condition.
Implantable Defibrillator Requirements
If your heartbeat becomes dangerously fast or slow, immediate action is necessary to avoid serious, even fatal, complications. With an implanted defibrillator, this action can take place instantly because the device is always present and ready.
The following conditions may require an implantable defibrillator:
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats)
- Heart failure, when the heart is unable to maintain proper circulation of blood
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (thickening of the myocardium)
Some modern defibrillators can also act as pacemakers, which assist the heart in beating at a normal rate.
Implantation and Recovery
At Houston Methodist a team of health care professionals works to ensure the best possible care for each individual patient. During implantation, a patient receives local anesthesia, and an incision is made in the patient’s chest or abdomen. The defibrillator is then inserted through the incision; a surgeon uses an X-ray machine to guide the device in place. Once the surgeon has determined that the leads have attached to the heart and the defibrillator is securely in place, the incision is closed.
After surgery, a doctor may restrict certain strenuous activities, such as heavy lifting or contact sports, for several weeks. Most patients, however, return to full and active lives within a month, including work, driving and sexual activity.
Regular follow-up sessions in the months after surgery are required to make sure there are no irregularities or complications in the process. If you feel significant shortness of breath, chest pain, chills, fever or any failure to heal in the area affected by surgery, see your medical specialist immediately.