More than 68,000 Americans have internal cardioverter defibrillators (or ICDs) to protect against cardiac arrest. You are probably familiar with the more common external defibrillators seen on popular medical shows on TV.
The TV version usually follows the same sequence of events. A patient arrives in the emergency room, suffers cardiac arrest, and medical professionals jump into action. They place two paddles on the chest of the victim, sending an electrical shock to the heart. Everyone then stands back and expectantly watches the ECG monitor for signs that the heart has resumed beating.
Unfortunately, not everyone who is at high risk for cardiac arrest can time an attack to happen in a hospital emergency room. This is the reason why ICDs were invented. High- risk patients can have a defibrillator surgically implanted that can monitor the pulse rate, rhythm, and wave form of the heart. When the heartbeat is fast and irregular, the ICD can immediately administer a shock. The electric shock, in effect, resets the heart.
There are not too many devices that can genuinely be called life-savers. But ICDs are just that.
It is a little worrisome, then, that a new report states ICDs have a 20% defect rate after 10 years.
The study, performed at a German cardio research center, involved the monitoring of 990 people with ICDs.
It was found that the wires suffered defects the longer the defibrillator was installed.
Defects occurred in wire insulation (56%), wires that fractured (12%), and wires no longer able to detect abnormal activity in the heart (11%).
The study’s author, Dr. Thomas Kleeman says this is a very serious problem “because if the [wires] have defects, they have to be changed [and] surgery to change them is not so easy.”
If you or someone you know has an ICD, they should be checked often. Many with the device have checkups every three to six months. Also, ICDs may have a lithium battery that has a life span of seven years. This needs to be replaced with a new one if it is near the end of its life.
Other considerations to note are to remember that there is a chance that cell phones can interfere with ICDs. Keep them at least six inches away from the ICD surgery site. ICDs can also set off security alarms at airports so it is important to carry a card stating you have an ICD when you’re traveling.