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Living with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

Your ICD is a device that monitors the electrical signals in your heart. Most ICDs are well protected from interference with other electrical devices. 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 such as commercial arc welders. Don'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.   

Woman using cell phone.

Signals that cause problems

To protect your ICD, be careful around:

  • Cell phones and other electronic devices. Be careful when using cell phones and other electronic devices. Most people will never have a problem when using a cellphone or electronic device. But some cell phones and electronic devices, such as smart watches, use powerful magnets for wireless charging that may interfere with the normal function of your ICD. It's safest to hold all cell phones to the ear farthest from your ICD or use the speaker mode setting. Keep electronic equipment away from your ICD. Don’t carry your cell phone or electronic device in your breast pocket, over the ICD. Experts recommend carrying your cell phone and other electronics in a pocket or bag below your waist.

  • Electromagnetic anti-theft systems. These are often near entrances or exits in stores. Walking through one is OK. But don't stand near or lean 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 creates an electrical field. It’s OK to drive or ride in a car. But don't lean 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. This medical test uses strong magnets. Some ICD devices are considered safe for having an MRI. They are called MR-conditional devices. Even with these, you need to take safety precautions. Magnets in big stereo or concert speakers can cause problems if you come to close to them. Hand-held security wands such as those used at airports can also cause problems if they come too close to the ICD.

If a signal interferes

The ICD could turn off or reset if it’s near one of the signals described above. You could even get a shock. If you think you were exposed to a signal like this, call your doctor and explain what happened. Also call your doctor if you sense any interference with your device.

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 healthcare provider 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 one 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 regular checkups with your healthcare provider to check the battery life of your ICD. Your provider can also make sure the ICD is working correctly. 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. That's often about every 8 to 10 years. On average, this monitoring should happen every 3 to 6 months, or as advised by your healthcare provider

For many devices, the monitoring of the device can be done with a remote monitor set up in your home. Battery life, lead wire condition, and various functions are checked by doing a device interrogation. During an interrogation, the device is connected to a device programmer using a special wand placed on the skin over the ICD. The data is sent from the device to the programmer and assessed. Most in-home device interrogation systems use wireless technology to connect the device to special equipment. The equipment records the data and sends the information to your healthcare provider.

Online Medical Reviewer: Anne Clayton APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2019
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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