Pacemaker ICD FAQs

Most new ICDs can act as both pacemakers and defibrillators. An ICD monitors your heart rhythm and will deliver an electrical pulse to your heart to stop a fast rhythm. All ICDs have backup pacing for rhythms that are too slow.

We often use devices in conjunction with medications. In general, you will not be able to stop all your heart medications; however, your doctor may need to adjust your medications post-implantation.

Cell phones available in the United States (less than 3 watts) generally do not appear to interfere with or damage pacemakers. However, it’s best to avoid keeping your cell phone in your breast pocket on the side of the device. It’s probably better to use the phone on the opposite ear, as well.

The procedure to implant a pacemaker/ICD is typically done under local anesthesia but can change based on your health and the device implanted. It does not require open-heart surgery, and most people go home within 24 hours.

At first, you may be aware of the device and see a slight bump in the skin. The device is very small, about the size of two small silver dollars stacked on top of each other, and weighs about an ounce or less. ICDs are typically slightly larger in size than a pacemaker. If the ICD sends a shock to the heart or “fires,” the person will feel this as a jolt or kick in the chest.

If your medical condition or lifestyle changes, your device may need to be adjusted. Most adjustments are done noninvasively using a device called a programmer. This is a specialized computer that communicates with the pacemaker/ICD using magnetic signals via a “wand” or loop placed over the device.

Most devices will last at least 5 to 7 years, after which the battery will need to be replaced. In general, replacing a pacemaker generator may be done on an outpatient basis.

After implantation of a pacemaker/ICD you will be able to participate in the activities you enjoy. Your doctor will have more information on activities you may need to avoid, but typically you can resume your normal daily activities after full recovery from surgery.

You may be able to enjoy exercise with your pacemaker or ICD, but check with your doctor first.

Yes, you can travel by air with your device. Airport security detectors are generally safe, but let airport security staff know you have a pacemaker/ICD. You should carry your device identification card with you at all times for safety purposes and especially when you travel. Airport security may ask you to present your card.