Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator can save your life as well as alter it
BY DR. KOMOROFF Universal Uclick
Thursday, April 26, 2012
4/26/12 at 2:35 AM
Dear Doctor K: I have a heart arrhythmia. My doctor wants me to get an ICD. What do I need to know before agreeing to get one?
Dear Reader: ICD stands for "implantable cardioverter-defibrillator." It is a small device that is surgically placed in your body. An ICD can save your life - but it can also complicate your life.
About 60 years ago, Harvard doctors invented the defibrillator, a machine that delivers a shock to the heart. They showed that the shock could quickly return a dangerous heart rhythm to normal. The shock was delivered by two paddles placed on a patient's chest.
Obviously, the defibrillator could help you only if your dangerous heart rhythm was diagnosed and treated within minutes of its starting. You had to be in a medical setting, or emergency medical technicians had to get to you very quickly.
Enter the ICD, which has two basic functions. First, it reads your heart rhythm and spots a potentially dangerous one. Second, it sends a jolt of electricity to your heart muscle to end the dangerous rhythm and restore a normal rhythm.
When you have an ICD placed in your body, it's as if the doctor with the paddles is always with you. It can be life-saving. However, some people become anxious or depressed by the possibility of having a shock at any time - even though they need it, and even though it may save their life.
ICDs don't last forever. The pulse generator needs replacement every three to seven years, but it's a pretty simple procedure. Occasionally, the wires to the heart need to be replaced. This is a bigger procedure, requiring anesthesia. Some states have driving restrictions for people with ICDs.
In many cases, the benefits of an ICD outweigh the drawbacks. But before you give your OK, talk to your doctor about an ICD's potential to save your life - and also alter the quality of it.
Write Dr. K at www.AskDoctorK.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106