How will I feel after the defibrillator implant?
You may have mild pain, swelling and tenderness at the placement site for several days after the surgery. Over-the-counter pain medicines can reduce discomfort. Ask your doctor before taking any pain medication and only take pain medication as directed. Call your doctor if your pain gets worse or changes in any way because it may be a sign of a complication.
When should I call my doctor?
It is important to keep your follow-up appointments after a defibrillator implant. Contact your doctor for questions and concerns between appointments. Call your doctor right away or seek immediate medical care if you have:
- Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, or wheezing
- Change in alertness, such as passing out, dizziness, unresponsiveness, or confusion
- Chest pain, pressure or squeezing or palpitations
- Fever. A low-grade fever (lower than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) is common for a couple of days after surgery and not necessarily a sign of a surgical infection. However, you should follow your doctor's specific instructions about when to call for a fever.
- Pain that is not controlled by your pain medication
- Unexpected drainage, pus, redness or swelling of your incision
How might a defibrillator implant affect my everyday life?
A defibrillator implant can help you lead an active, normal life. It does not cure heart disease, but it can lower your risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest. It can also cause significant changes to your body that may affect your everyday life.
When your defibrillator senses a mild change in your heart rhythm, it will send a low-energy pulse. This is called pacing. You may feel a fluttering in your chest or nothing at all with pacing. If pacing doesn’t work, your defibrillator will send a mild shock. This shock is called cardioversion. People often describe the feeling of cardioversion as being thumped on the chest.
When your defibrillator senses a serious change in your heart rhythm, it will send a high-energy shock. This is called defibrillation. Defibrillation can be painful and is often described as being kicked in the chest. The sensation should only last a few seconds. Defibrillation can be upsetting, but be assured that your defibrillator is doing its job.
Contact your doctor if you have an episode of cardioversion. Seek immediate medical care (dial 911) if you have defibrillation.
Other lifestyle changes include:
- Alerting all of your healthcare providers, including your local fire department, that you have an ICD. Certain medical procedures need to be avoided if you have an ICD. You should carry an ID card that identifies your ICD device.
- Avoiding close or prolonged exposure to certain electrical devices or devices that have a strong magnetic field. Your doctor will provide specific instructions on which devices to avoid. You should avoid magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Avoiding contact sports and activities that could loosen your defibrillator wires
- Driving only after your doctor has approved it. The length of time it takes to regain driving privileges varies depending on your local laws and your recovery. Your doctor may ask you to refrain from driving until you have gone six months without an episode of fainting.
- Following up several times a year with your doctor. Your doctor will need to check your ICD on a regular basis. Your doctor will assess if the battery or wires need to be replaced and if other devices have affected the signaling. Your doctor will also check progression of your disease and reprogram your ICD as needed. Some devices will alert your doctor when a shock is delivered.
- Needing future surgery to replace the battery, wires, or the entire ICD device. Batteries generally last five to seven years.