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Living with an Implantable Device

It can feel strange to think about having a device implanted in your chest to help your heart function properly. Different kinds of heart failure (HF) can result in the need for devices that can help your heart in different ways.1 If you have an abnormal heart rhythm or a disruption in the electrical impulses of the heart you may need a device to keep the heart working right. Implantable cardiac medical devices can be used for rhythm control and to support the circulation of the heart.2 Research has been able to demonstrate that cardiac devices can improve the length and quality of a person’s life.1

With an implanted device your healthcare team may be able to remotely monitor and evaluate heart rhythm, heart function, and activity level. Yet it is important to note there are other important factors in good heart health.4

Follow the recommended treatment plan

A device is not a substitute for regular treatment as it does not reverse heart failure.1 Eating a heart-healthy diet, being physically active, and following the prescribed medication plan are all part of caring for your heart failure.1-2 There are many resources available to help you understand how to eat right and get enough physical activity.

Devices

Devices you may have heard of include:1-2

  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is a battery-powered device that is surgically inserted under the skin that keeps track of the heart rhythm.
  • Pacemaker. A small battery-operated device, a pacemaker helps the heart to beat in a regular rhythm. It is recommended to treat various heart rhythm disorders.
  • Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD). A surgically implanted battery-operated device that acts like a mechanical pump to help the heart that is no longer effective on its own.

Post implantation

It can take a few months for a device to settle firmly in place and for you to get used to it. You may be advised to avoid sudden or jerky movements that would extend your arm away from your body. Try to avoid activities or holding heavy things that would put pressure on the location of the implantation. Sometimes women will wear padding over the incision site to shield it from their bra. Also, you should check with your doctor as to when or if you can resume driving after your device has been implanted. Some states have mandated restrictions on driving for people with implanted devices.1,4

Your entire healthcare team should explain how your new device functions, what you can expect to feel, and any precautions you should take. It is important to let any new doctors, dentists, hospital or medical personnel know that you have an implanted device.1-2

Living with ICD shocks

Implantable devices are programmed to recognize changes in the heart that could otherwise result in life-threatening situations.1-2 Some deliver a barely detectable electrical impulse and others may deliver a shock that corrects an arrhythmia before it can stop the heart.3 Some people with implanted devices never receive a shock while others will find a shock, if delivered, quite jarring both physically and emotionally.3-4

Having an implanted device in your chest can be reassuring for some and cause worry in others. Common concerns include whether the device will work when needed or go off at a bad time. Having a device in your chest may cause feelings of fear or anxiety. Learning to cope with an implanted device can require one to go through similar stages to when you first learned of your HF diagnosis and the coping steps taken then.3-4

Routine information

There are some important basics to understand about living with an implantable device.1 Devices should be checked regularly. Information is obtained about battery life, the effectiveness of the wires, and any collected data about events or external impact on performance. Depending on the device, the check-up can be performed during an office visit or through telemonitoring over the telephone, cellular transmission, or via the Internet. Battery life varies by device, lasting from 3-10 years. To replace the battery, you may require a minimally invasive surgical procedure.1,2,5

Device safety

Implantable devices (except VAD’s) are waterproof. Beware of magnets and strong electrical fields. Your healthcare team should let you know what kinds of devices you should stay away from including MRIs. Inform security screeners that you have an implanted medical device. Inform doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and dentists that you have an implanted device. This is for your safety and the integrity of the device.

Advances in technology have reduced the likelihood that you will experience any issues with general gadgets. Cell phones, microwave ovens, electric blankets, remote controls for TV and other common household appliances should not affect your implanted device. The standard advice is to hold the phone, headphones or any electrical or magnetic device at least 6-12 inches away from your device. Don’t leave your phone in your breast pocket.

Stay away from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines or other large magnetic fields. They can interfere with the programming or function of your device. The changing magnetic field in an MRI scanner can cause overheating of implanted wires.1,2,4,5

Carry an ID card

Always carry a device ID card. It will help security or emergency personnel to identify your device. Metal detectors in public places may be set off by the metal in your device. If security uses a wand, be careful, the magnet in the wand may temporarily change the operating mode of your device. Do not lean against or remain in the nearby vicinity longer than needed. Some people also get a medical alert bracelet or pendant.1,2,5 If your device delivers an unnecessary shock or you have concerns about a change in programming, make sure to call your healthcare team.

Written by: Linda Minton | Last reviewed: November 2019
  1. Living With Your Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD). American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/prevention--treatment-of-arrhythmia/living-with-your-implantable-cardioverter-defibrillator-icd. Accessed 10/25/19.
  2. Living With Your Pacemaker. American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/prevention--treatment-of-arrhythmia/living-with-your-pacemaker. Accessed 10/25/19.
  3. Austin D. Living for a Shock: Listening to Patients with Implantable Defibrillators. Science of Caring. Available at: https://scienceofcaring.ucsf.edu/alumni-focus/living-shock-listening-patients-implantable-defibrillators. Accessed 10/25/19.
  4. Living for a Shock: Listening to Patients with Implantable Defibrillators Harvard Health Letter. Available at: https://scienceofcaring.ucsf.edu/alumni-focus/living-shock-listening-patients-implantable-defibrillators Accessed 10/25/19.
  5. Living with a Pacemaker or Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator ICD. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/living-with-a-pacemaker-or-implantable-cardioverter-defibrillator-icd. Accessed 10/25/19.