After an Implantable Defibrillator "ICD"

How long does it take to recover after having an ICD?

Following an implantable defibrillator, or ICD, it may take a few weeks for you to start returning to your normal activities. Before you leave hospital, you’ll be given detailed instructions for managing your ICD device - as well as advice on follow up appointments, exercise, medications, ongoing wound care and resuming normal activities.

How do I reduce my risk of further heart problems after an ICD?

After your ICD surgery, it’s very important to take steps to reduce your risk of further heart problems. You can find out more from our cardiac rehabilitation nurse about general heart disease risk factors - both modifiable and non-modifiable - in this short video. 

You should see your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Any symptoms or complaints you felt before your ICD surgery
  • Blackouts
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fever, chills, shivers or sweats
  • Redness, swelling or drainage from the incision site
  • Increased tenderness around the site
  • Bleeding from the incision site
  • The incision edges begin to pull apart or open up

Your doctor will check your ICD 4 to 6 weeks after surgery then every 3 to 6 months, to make sure it is still working properly and that you aren’t at risk of any further heart problems.

The battery in your device should last around 5-7 years, though the range varies depending on how often your ICD delivers therapy. When the time comes to replace the battery, you’ll need to have minor surgery again - but this will be less involved than your original surgery.

What medications should I take after an ICD?

After your ICD, you’ll also be given medicines to lower your risk of infection or a further cardiac event. Medications work best when you’re being healthy in all areas of your life - for example, exercising, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet.

Everyone has individual requirements for medications, and you’ll be given a personalised medicine plan that’s right for you. If you have any questions about the medication you’re taking, speak to your pharmacist or doctor.

You can learn more from our pharmacist about the medications you may need to take by watching this video.

How do I resume my regular activities after an ICD?

It’s very common to feel ‘nervous’ for a little while after your ICD surgery. These feelings are often replaced by a sense of reassurance and positivity towards your ICD as you get used to living with your device.

To hear from our social worker about some of the emotional changes you may experience during your recovery, watch this short video.

It’s safe to return to most regular activities with time after your ICD surgery, but there are some things you won’t be able to do immediately:

  • Lifting - you won’t be able to lift anything with the arm on the side of the ICD greater than 5kg for at least one month after your surgery
  • Pushing and pulling - for the first month of your recovery, avoid activities like vacuuming, moving the lawn, doing the laundry, pushing a trolley, hanging clothes on the line or reaching for items on the top shelf
  • Driving - you won’t be able to drive until your doctor confirms it is safe
  • Sex – sex requires about the same amount of energy as walking up two flights of stairs, and you’re generally ready to ease back into this from around week 3 (it’s normal to lose interest in sexual activity for a while; however, like other activities, you should be back to normal at 3 months)
  • Work – you can return to work related activities as soon as your concentration, confidence and physical abilities allow, and most people return to light office work  within 4 weeks and heavy work at 3 months
  • Travelling – Most people with ICD’s can travel freely. When you’re travelling, have your Medical Device ID Card with you at all times

Living with an ICD means avoiding certain types of electronic devices with strong magnetic fields, as these may stop your device  from working. Generally, most household and hobby items are unlikely to affect your ICD if the items are in good working condition and used only as intended.

Some items that have a stronger magnetic field may affect the normal function of your ICD. You’ll need to keep the following devices at least 15cm away from your ICD:

  • Mobile phones and iPods - it’s best to use your mobile phone on the opposite ear to where your ICD  has been implanted and avoid placing the phone in a pocket near the device
  • Airport screening wand - it’s safe to walk through Metal Detectors Archway, but we recommend notifying security that you have an ICD and they may choose to screen you separately. It is important however that wands should not be held over your ICD

It’s recommended to avoid the following:

  • Industrial welders and electrical generators
  • Chainsaws
  • MRI
  • Magnetic Mattress/Pillow

Always tell your doctor that you have an ICD, as some medical procedures might affect your device. Always carry a card that identifies the type of ICD you have. You might also want to consider wearing a medical ID bracelet.

To learn more about returning to activities from our occupational therapist – watch this short video 

How do I start exercising again after an ICD?

Exercising will help to speed up your recovery, and it’s a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise increases your fitness levels, helps control blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, and keep you relaxed. Your ICD won't limit you from exercising and playing most sports. However, contact sports could affect your device and damage the wires, so rough sports like football should be avoided.

As you ease back into exercise after your ICD, start with short and simple walks, and gradually increase length and intensity. You can walk as much as you like as long as you feel comfortable, and daily walking - if only for a few minutes - is ideal.

To learn more from our physiotherapist about exercise, watch this short video.

Where can I go for ongoing support after an ICD?

After you leave hospital, your medical team will be available for ongoing support.

  • Business hours – after your ICD procedure you will be provided with contact details for your doctor and the EPS CNC (via switch)
  • After hours - St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Department (02) 8382 1111

St Vincent's Hospital ICD support group

The St Vincent's Hospital also offers ICD support groups, specifically designed to support ICD patients and carers. These sessions are held three times per year at the hospital. Details of these sessions can be found by contacting the St Vincent's Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Department

Remember, you are not alone in this. Your healthcare team and support network are there for you, to help you recover - so you can go on to live a healthy, fulfilling and active life for many years to come.