What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)?

Living with heart disease can be frightening. For some patients, it means being at risk for dangerously fast and potentially life-threatening heart rates such as tachycardia. Fortunately, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can provide protection and life-saving therapy, giving you greater peace of mind.

Tachycardia is a fast or irregular heart rhythm, causing the heart to beat 100 beats per minute and with as many as 400 beats per minute. At these fast and elevated rates, the heart is not able to efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood through the body.

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a tiny computer device, plus a battery, contained in a titanium small metal case that is about the size of a pocket watch. It typically weighs about 3 ounces.

An ICD is designed to treat dangerously fast heart rates such as ventricular tachycardia. It continuously monitors your heart and restores your heart to its normal heart rate. It’s like having an emergency response team with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How Does a Defibrillator Work?

The ICD is surgically implanted under your skin, typically on the left or right side of your chest, just below the collarbone. In addition to the device itself, leads (tiny insulated wires) are implanted for two purposes: to carry information signals from your heart to the heart device, and when necessary, to carry electrical impulses to your heart. After surgery, the ICD is monitored with an external computer located in your physician’s office.

ICD vs. Pacemaker

ICDs often have Pacemakers built into them, so they can do everything a Pacemaker can, plus a bit more.  Whereas a Pacemaker can only deliver low-level electrical pulses, an ICD can deliver both low-level and high-level electrical pulses.  The ICD has the ability to detect more life-threatening arrhythmias (like those that can cause Sudden Cardiac Arrest), and shock the heart (a process known as defibrillation) back to a normal rhythm. Click here to read more about the differences between ICDs and Pacemakers.

If you believe you may be suffering from a heart rhythm disorder, speak to your doctor about visiting the cardiac electrophysiologist of Heart Rhythm Consultants for more information, testing and treatment options including ICDs.

Get Checklist Now

Questions For Your Doctor

Prepare for your next visit with these important questions.
Get Checklist Now