Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is a specialized device designed to directly treat certain types of cardiac tachydysrhythmia. ICDs have revolutionized the treatment of patients at risk for sudden cardiac death due to ventricular tachyarrhythmias.

Internal defibrillators are used in emergency situations for people who suffer sudden life threatening arrhythmias.

A variety of common cardiac conditions can lead to an electrical malfunction and the resulting need for an ICD. Some of these conditions are:

  • Ventricular fibrillation – a life-threatening condition in which the ventricles contract in a rapid, chaotic rhythm and cannot pump blood to the body
  • Ventricular tachycardia – a serious condition in which the ventricles cause a fast heartbeat
  • Heart failure – a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood effectively to meet the body’s metabolic needs
  • Predisposition – being at risk for sudden cardiac arrest due to family history or other known conditions

The device is programmed to manage heartbeat speed and has a number of life-saving functions that can be programmed by a physician based on the patient’s needs for restoring a normal heart rhythm.

The ICD can also be programmed to function as a basic pacemaker as needed. Sometimes, after a shock is delivered, the heart may beat too slowly. The ICD has a “backup” pacemaker, which can stimulate the heart to beat faster until the normal heart rhythm returns. Additionally, an ICD can act as a pacemaker not only after a shock is delivered, but also any time the heart rate drops below a pre-programmed rate.

An ICD can also record and store information about your heart rhythm and therapies delivered by the ICD for your physician to review. As with a pacemaker, regular appointments are necessary in order for a physician to adjust the settings when needed, thus ensuring you maintain a healthy heart rhythm.