Living with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

Man on an escalator looking at his phone.

Your ICD is a device that monitors the electrical signals in your heart. Most ICDs are well protected from other electrical device interference. Microwave ovens and most common household and yard appliances will not cause problems. Signals from some large electric or magnetic fields can make interference "noise" on your ICD. This can cause problems. Possible sources of interference include certain heavy equipment, strong magnets, running motors, and large tools like commercial arc welders. You shouldn't work on your car with the motor running, but it's safe to drive. Check with your doctor about any large, unusual power tools you use.   

Signals that cause problems

To protect your ICD, take special precautions around:

  • Cell phones. Always carry a cell phone on the side opposite your ICD and at least 6 inches away from it. While using a cell phone, wear a headset or hold the phone to the ear opposite your ICD.

  • Electromagnetic anti-theft systems. These are often near entrances or exits in stores. Walking through one is OK, but avoid standing near or leaning against one.

  • Strong electrical fields. These can be caused by radio transmitting towers and heavy-duty electrical equipment (such as arc welders). A running engine also produces an electrical field. It’s OK to ride in a car, but avoid leaning over the open hood of a running car.

  • Very strong magnets. Talk with your heart doctor if another doctor tells you to have an MRI (a medical test that uses magnets). Some ICD devices are considered safe for having an MRI (called MR-conditional devices), but safety precautions must still be used. Magnets in big speakers (such as on a stereo or at a concert) and in hand-held security wands (such as those used at airports) can cause problems if they come too close to the ICD.

If a signal interferes

If it’s near one of the signals described above, the ICD could turn off or its settings could reset. You could even get a shock. If you think you were exposed to a signal like this, call your doctor and explain what happened.

Carry an ID card

You’ll be given a temporary ID card when you get your ICD. The permanent card will be mailed to you in about 6 weeks. Show this card to any doctor, dentist, or other medical professional you visit. Also show it to guards at the airport. This way, they know to follow special procedures that prevent the security wand from interfering with your ICD.

Driving safety with an ICD

ICD devices are implanted to shock the heart out of a life threatening heart rhythm. These heart rhythms can cause loss of consciousness (syncope). Your healthcare provider will give you directions on if and when it's safe to drive after you have had once of these devices implanted. Generally, you should not drive for 6 months after you have had this device implanted, or after the device has delivered a shock. You should never drive for commercial purposes after you have an ICD implanted. This is often restricted by state laws because of the high risk of passing out and the dangers that poses while driving.

Follow up

Plan on having periodic checkups with your healthcare provider to evaluate the battery life of your ICD. Depending on your device and how much your body uses the pacing functions of the ICD, you will need a new device generator implanted at some point, usually about every 5 to 7 years. On average, this monitoring should happen every 6 months, or as advised by your healthcare provider.

For some devices, the monitoring of the device function and battery life can be done with a remote monitor that can be set up in your home. Remote monitoring systems use the internet or telephone to communicate the information from your device to your healthcare provider.