Defibrillators What to Expect if You Need an ICD


Before and during surgery

You may have questions about your condition and whether an ICD is right for you. You may be able to choose between different ICD models with different benefits and risks. Your doctor will help you make the decision that is right for you.

Placing an ICD requires minor surgery, which usually is done in a hospital. Your doctor will discuss the procedure with you. This is a good time to ask questions. As with any surgery, risks are involved.

Before the surgery, your healthcare providers will give you medicines to relax you and numb the area where the device will go. They may also give you antibiotics to prevent infections.

Typically, the ICD is placed under your breastbone or along your ribs. In infants, it can be placed in the stomach area. With some devices, your doctor may first thread one or two sensor wires through your blood vessels into the chambers of your heart. With others, a single sensor wire is placed along the breastbone. The doctors will use a monitor to guide the wires and put them in the right place.

Once the device is in place, your doctor will test it. Then your doctor will sew up the cut. The entire surgery takes a few hours.

Recovery from surgery

You may be able to leave the hospital once the medicines you received for the surgery wear off. You can then continue your recovery at home.

Follow the instructions you receive. Your healthcare team may tell you to take these steps:

  • Check the cut on your chest often and keep the area clean and dry.
  • Call your provider if any swelling or bleeding occurs or if you develop a fever.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen if you feel pain. But talk to your doctor first before taking any medicines.
  • Ask your provider when you can resume taking medicines that you took before the surgery, how soon you can take a shower, and when you can return to work. You will probably have to avoid driving for at least a week while you recover from your surgery. You may be asked to avoid high-impact activities and heavy lifting for about a month.

At your next scheduled appointment, ask about living with an ICD and what to do when you feel an electric pulse or shock from your device.

Possible surgery-related complications

Although they are rare, possible complications include:

  • A bad reaction to the medicine used to make you relax or sleep during the surgery
  • A collapsed lung
  • A defibrillator wire puncturing the heart or a vessel
  • Bleeding from the site where the device was placed
  • Blood vessel, heart, or nerve damage
  • Swelling, bruising, or infection at the area where the device was placed
  • Venous thromboembolism

Some ICD models have a lower risk of clots, puncture, and infection.

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