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Living with an Implantable Device

Some people with heart failure need a device that can help their heart function properly. It may feel strange to think about having a device implanted in your chest. But this device is essential to treatment and can improve the length and quality of your life.1

Implantable medical devices can be used to help the heart work correctly. You may need an implantable device if:2

  • You have an irregular heart rhythm
  • There is a disruption in the electrical signals that set your heartbeat
  • Your heart cannot pump blood properly on its own

On this page, you can find out more about the different types of implantable devices and things you can expect after receiving 1.

Types of implantable devices

There are a few different kinds of implantable devices. Your doctor will determine which is best for you based on your condition and symptoms.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a device that is put in your chest and connected to your heart through tiny wires called leads. This device uses a battery and can keep track of your heart rate. If your heart is beating irregularly, it can send electrical impulses to regulate the rhythm of your heart.1-3

Single-lead and dual-lead pacemakers

A pacemaker is similar to an ICD – it is a battery-operated device that connects to the heart through leads. It also helps the heart beat in a regular rhythm.4

A single-lead pacemaker uses 1 lead that is placed in the lower right chamber of your heart. A dual-lead pacemaker uses 2 leads – 1 in the upper right chamber and 1 in the lower right chamber of your heart.4

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Biventricular pacemaker

A biventricular pacemaker is a part of a procedure called cardiac resynchronization therapy, CRT, or biventricular pacing. In this procedure, the pacemaker is placed below your collarbone and attached to your heart with 3 leads.4,5

The leads are placed in the upper right, lower right, and lower left chambers of the heart. The leads will monitor the rhythm of your heart and send electrical signals to help your heart beat regularly.4,5

Biventricular pacemakers are often used for people whose:5

  • Heart failure symptoms are moderate to severe
  • Right and left heart chambers do not beat together

Left ventricular assist device (LVAD)

A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is a device that acts as a mechanical pump to help the heart pump blood on its own. LVADs are battery operated and are often used when someone is waiting for a heart transplant.2

If you are waiting for a heart transplant, how well your heart works may worsen over time. LVADs are used to help the weakened heart. They are also being used as a long-term treatment option for people with end-stage heart failure.2

CardioMEMS HF system

CardioMEMS HF is a sensor that is implanted into the pulmonary artery. The pulmonary artery is a blood vessel that carries blood from your heart to your lungs, where the blood receives oxygen. This sensor can monitor your heart rate and the pressure of the blood in your pulmonary artery. Your doctor can use this data to make decisions about your treatment.6,7

The person with the sensor can track their blood pressure measurements through an electronic system. The system also sends this data to their doctor.6

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved CardioMEMS HF for people with:6

  • Moderate to severe heart failure
  • Higher levels of natriuretic peptides (a substance the heart makes more of as heart failure worsens)

What to expect after implantation

It can take a few months for you to adjust to living with an implanted device. You should follow any restrictions from your doctor. This may include avoiding the following activities:1,8

  • Lifting objects that weigh over 10 pounds
  • Pushing, pulling, or twisting your body
  • Placing pressure on the area where your device was implanted
  • Wearing clothing that will rub on the incision (if you wear a bra, you may want to wear a small pad over the incision area as well)
  • Lifting the arm that is on the same side as your device

Tips for living with an implantable device

Living with an implantable device can improve your symptoms and quality of life. But there are some things you should keep in mind:

Understand your device

The more you know about your device, the better. Your doctor may have specific instructions for you and your device. Follow the specific instructions from your doctor and ask questions to make sure you fully understand your device.1,8

Your healthcare team should let you know what can cause problems with your device. They may suggest you steer clear from:1,8

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Magnets
  • Strong magnetic fields

Keep up with device maintenance

After implantation, you will need to maintain your device. This includes regular checkups with your doctor and replacing the battery. How long your battery lasts will depend on what type of device you have. For example, pacemaker batteries last 6 to 15 years and ICD batteries last 5 to 7 years.1,8

Carry an ID card

People who have an implantable device should carry around an ID card that states what implantable device they have. That way, in an emergency, doctors can identify your device and treat you accordingly.1,8

Metal detectors in public places may be set off by the metal in your device. An ID card can help security identify your device.1,8

You should keep your card on you whenever you leave the house. You can also wear an ID bracelet or necklace for added safety.1,8

Be physically active

You can still be physically active with an implantable device. But you may have to wait a period of time after the device is implanted. Your level of activity will depend on you, your condition, and instructions from your doctor.1,8

Participate in a physical activity that you enjoy like walking, swimming, or even just moving your arms and legs around. But if you get too tired, stop the activity. You do not want to overwork yourself.1,8

Take care of yourself

It is common for people to experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their device is implanted. If you receive a shock from your device, this may cause symptoms of PTSD such as:1,9

  • Distressing thoughts
  • Signs of stress
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the shock
  • Being startled easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling irritable

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, let your doctor know. You are not alone and they will be able to help you understand and cope with your symptoms.1