What is Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD) Insertion?

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a cardiac device that can not only treat irregular heartbeats but also restart the heart if needed. A standard pacemaker monitors the beating of the heart, and can treat an irregular rhythm with regular, low-energy electrical impulses that cause the heart to contract on time. An ICD performs this function, but also monitors for cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops beating. If this happens, the ICD can deliver a single, high-energy dose of electricity to shock the heart and get it beating again. After delivering a defibrillating shock, the ICD makes sure the heart continues to work correctly.

Placement of an ICD is similar to the placement of a standard pacemaker. An incision is made near the shoulder, and two insulated wires or leads are threaded through a vein and placed in the heart. The battery pack, a small metal device, is inserted beneath the skin of the chest just under the collarbone. Once everything is in place, the wires are connected to the battery, and the ICD is functional.

You may have swelling and discomfort after surgery as your incisions heal. Your heart needs several weeks to adjust to the ICD, so it is best to avoid strenuous activity at first. Strong magnetic fields may affect the function of your ICD, so your doctor will tell you to avoid certain activities, such as having an MRI or even keeping your cell phone too close to your ICD. Within a few weeks your heart should be beating more safely and effectively.