What is a defibrillator implant?

A defibrillator implant is the surgical placement of an electrical device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in your chest or belly. An ICD treats life-threatening abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias). Arrhythmias can prevent your heart from pumping a sufficient amount of blood to your brain and body. A defibrillator implant uses electrical shocks to restore a normal heartbeat.

Your heart is a muscle that works like a pump. It has four chambers, two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Like all pumps, your heart requires a source of energy to function. Your heart's pumping energy comes from a built-in electrical conduction system.

Your heart's four chambers must pump in harmony with one another to make a normal heartbeat. Electrical signals travel through the chambers to produce the heartbeat. Any malfunction in these signals can make your heart beat too quickly, too slowly, or at an uneven rate. This causes an arrhythmia.

A defibrillator implant is only one method used to treat abnormal heartbeats. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor or healthcare provider to understand which options are right for you. 

Types of defibrillator implants

An ICD has two main parts. The first part is the wires with electrodes that connect your heart to the ICD. These wires continually monitor your heart rhythm. They send the information to the second part of an ICD, the pulse generator. 

The pulse generator is a small battery-operated computer. It is designed to recognize abnormal heart rhythms and respond by sending electrical impulses back to your heart. The pulse generator can send either low-energy pulses or high-energy shocks to correct your heart rhythm. 

The types of defibrillator implants include:

  • Dual chamber ICD. A dual chamber ICD has wires that connect to both an upper chamber and a lower chamber of your heart. It corrects abnormal electrical signals between the two chambers.
  • Single chamber ICD. A single chamber ICD has wires that connect to one or both of your ventricles (the lower chambers). It corrects abnormal electrical signals within the ventricles. 

Other procedures that may be performed

In some cases, an ICD is placed during open-heart surgery for other heart problems. These surgeries include:

  • Congenital defect repair corrects a variety of heart problems that are present at birth.
  • Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), commonly called heart bypass surgery. A CABG bypasses or provides a new route around diseased coronary arteries with healthy vessels taken from other places in the body. This is the most common heart surgery in adults.
  • Heart valve repair or replacement. Diseased or damaged heart valves do not allow blood to flow properly through the heart and out to the body.
  • Left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implant. The LVAD is implanted in the abdomen and attached to the heart to help a weak heart pump more effectively. An LVAD treats severe heart failure. 

Why is a defibrillator implant performed? 

Your doctor may recommend an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to treat a life-threatening heart arrhythmia. Arrhythmias of your heart’s ventricles are particularly serious. This includes ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation. 

Ventricular tachycardia occurs when your ventricles beat too fast. This decreases the amount of blood that your heart pumps to your brain and body. Dizziness and fainting can occur with ventricular tachycardia. It can be life threatening without rapid treatment. 

Ventricular fibrillation occurs when your ventricles beat so fast and unevenly that they quiver, or shake. Little or no blood is pumped to your brain and body. Death results within five to 10 minutes without treatment.

Your doctor may only consider a defibrillator implant for you if other treatment options with less risk have failed to prevent life-threatening heart arrhythmias. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a defibrillator implant.&