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Implantable Defibrillator: Basic Knowledge

This page will provide you with general information about implantable defibrillators, things you need to watch out for before and after potential implantation, as well as what the implantation process might look like. Furthermore, this page will provide you with useful links to more information and patient stories that will give some insight into what life with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can look like.

Female doctor holding an implantable defibrillator

What Is an Implantable Defibrillator?

Defibrillators or rather Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (also called ICDs) are electronic devices that can save the lives of patients who are at risk of having a very fast heartbeat (over 100 beats per minute). This is called ventricular tachycardia and happens when the two main chambers (ventricles) of the heart beat too fast (tachycardia) to sufficiently pump blood through the body. This can lead to a life-threatening situation in which the chambers can no longer contract (ventricular fibrillation). This leads to cardiac arrest within minutes. To stop this from happening, an electric shock (defibrillation) must be emitted into the heart to shock it back into a normal rhythm. This is where the ICD comes into play. It detects the extremely fast heartbeat and shocks the heart back into a normal rhythm, saving the patient’s life before cardiac arrest.

Before the Implantation

In case your physician has recommended a defibrillator (ICD) to you, you will receive detailed instructions about how to prepare for the surgery. Your cardiologist may advise the following among other things:

  • To stop taking blood-thinning medication several days before surgery.
  • If you take other medication regularly, ask your physician if you should continue taking the medication before your procedure.
  • To stop eating for about 12 hours before the implantation.

In addition to the information your healthcare professional will provide, we have put together frequently asked questions and a checklist that you might want to take a look at and go over with your physician.

Implantation Procedure

The procedure of implanting a defibrillator is quite simple and is not performed on an open heart. The surgery will be performed under local anesthesia, and sometimes, short-term sedation. You will also be given antibiotics to reduce the risk of inflammation and infection.

After preparing the incision site, the surgeon will make a small cut in your upper chest, well below your shoulder. The surgeon will insert wires called leads into a major vein near your collarbone. In case of emergency, they will deliver one or if necessary more shocks to the heart. Using an X-ray for visibility, the surgeon will guide the leads through your veins and place them at the correct locations in your heart. Then, the surgeon will implant the ICD in a pocket created at the incision beneath the skin. The surgeon will connect the leads to the defibrillator and program it for your specific medical needs. After a test to ensure that the ICD is working correctly, the surgeon will close the incision with a few stitches. Usually, you will only stay in the hospital for a few days.

After the Implantation

You will need some time to get used to living with an ICD. On average, people need about 4 months to get back to living an active life again. The sooner you accept the device as a part of you, the sooner you will feel happy with your new built-in lifesaver.

Of course, regular follow-ups with your physician are necessary to determine if the ICD is providing you with the best care possible. To determine that, the ICD is constantly recording information that your physician can interpret. Of course, BIOTRONIK offers Home Monitoring as well.

Implantable defibrillators are literally life insurance. After all, nothing and no one can give you a better chance of surviving a life-threatening episode unscathed, as the device is always with you and delivers your heart the right therapy within a matter of seconds. If you ever start to worry about the state of your health, consider this: you can now enjoy activities that you could not have risked doing without the device.

Scroll down to the “Related Topics” to find out more about interesting information regarding Home Monitoring, everyday life tips, our patient app and how to get an MRI with an ICD.

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