Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICD)

An Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) is a device that will monitor your heart closely for heart rhythm problems. If a life threatening rhythm should occur, the ICD will rapidly pace your heart, or deliver a shock to restore a normal heart beat. Your specialist may suggest you receive an ICD if you are at risk for a life threatening, fast heart rhythm disturbance. This may also be referred to as a risk of ‘sudden death.' To determine if you are at risk, your doctor will assess your heart function and take into account other information such as your history of heart failure and heart attack.

How an ICD works

The heart is a pump, and like any other kind of pump, it needs time to fill. In your case, your heart has the potential to beat too fast and does not have time to fill with blood. This means that your blood isn't circulating and if not corrected, your body will be starved of oxygen.
An ICD will monitor your heart rhythm and when it notices a disturbance in the rhythm, will deliver a shock to the heart. This shock will make all the cells in the heart beat at the same time again and will restore your normal rhythm and circulation. The device reacts very quickly and will deliver a shock within a few seconds. It is important to remember, the ICD is not a cure for your underlying problem. When the device isn't delivering a shock, it simply monitors your heart or acts as a pacemaker.

If you experience a shock, you should call the Cardiac Rhythm Device Clinic at KGH. (613-549-6666 extension 4547) For safety reasons, please do not drive to the hospital. If you receive multiple shocks, or are feeling unwell after a shock, you should call 911. Some devices are able to send a wireless message to a specialized computer in the clinic. The message will then be reviewed by a specialist nurse to find out what happened to your heart rhythm. This wireless service is unfortunately not available to all patients, so you should speak with a member of your care team to see if you are a candidate. 

What to expect

  • The procedure to implant the device is performed in a sterile environment at KGH, usually in our electrophysiology laboratory (EP lab).
  • You will first arrive in the Admitting department, before moving to the Cardiac Sciences Unit where you will be greeted by a nurse. 
  • The nurse will begin by placing an IV line and checking your vitals.
  • Sometime before your procedure you will be asked to sign a consent form. At this time you may also speak with the doctor and ask any questions you may have. 
  • You will then be asked to lay on a stretcher and will be moved into the EP lab.
  • The same nurse who checked your vitals will make sure you are comfortable throughout the procedure using sedation drugs. 
  • The procedure is performed using an X-ray, so if you are a woman of child bearing age it is important that you confirm you are not pregnant before the procedure begins. 
  • You will remain awake through this procedure. A local anaesthetic will be used will be used to numb the area where the ICD will be inserted.
  • A small incision will be made below the collarbone, usually on your left side, and the device will be implanted. The procedure can take one-to-two hours depending on the type of ICD you receive.
  • An overnight stay is not usually required, but you should come to the hospital prepared to stay overnight just in case. Before you are able to go home, you will be met by your care team who will discuss medications with you.
  • Please make sure you have arrangements for your ride home as you won't be able to drive. 
  • If you would like more information about home care after your procedure is complete, read our Cardiac Rhythm Device Home Care Guide.