heart implant

Euro 2020 heart attack: what is a defibrillator implant and how does it work?

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Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen has made it into headlines after suffering a cardiac arrest during his country’s Euro 2020 opener against Finland in Copenhagen. 

Saved by CPR administered to him on the pitch, he now will live with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a small electronic device which can prevent fatal heart attacks by discharging a jolt to restore a regular heart rhythm. 

We are answering the most common questions about an ICD. 

What is an ICD? 

An ICD is a battery-powered pulse-generator the size of a pocket watch placed under the skin, just under the collarbone or in the abdomen. It keeps track of the person’s heart rate 24/7. The device is connected to the heart through thin wires and, if one’s heart is beating chaotically and much too fast, delivers an electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat. 

Newer-generation ICDs may have a dual function and can serve as a pacemaker. The pacemaker stimulates the heart to beat if the heart rate is too slow.

ICDs are recommended to patients with known, sustained heart rhythm disorders such as ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation. Studies have shown that the ICDs may prevent cardiac arrest in high-risk patients who haven’t had, but are at risk for, life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias. 

But before a patient is fitted with an ICD, doctors must be sure that the arrhythmia is life-threatening and cannot be fixed otherwise. Having a heart defibrillator is associated with many limitations and its sole purpose is to prevent sudden cardiac death, so it’s very important for a person considering an ICD to understand their underlying condition, be it heart failure or genetic predisposition for risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

Living with ICD

Living with an ICD can be scary, especially if you made the decision quickly due to sudden cardiac arrest. However, studies show that ICDs can improve the quality of life and extend it. You might have to consider changing some lifestyle choices. 

Firstly, a heart defibrillator doesn’t change the underlying condition that you have. As using an ICD does not reverse heart disease or alter a gene, you should follow your doctor’s instructions for treating your underlying conditions. 

Having the device means following a medications plan, and you should do so exactly as instructed. Drugs work with your ICD and help your heart pump regularly.

A patient with ICD must understand their device and all instructions. The battery lasts 5 to 7 years, but it’s recommended to have regular check-ups with your doctor. The specialist will find out if it’s working correctly and how it affects the underlying heart condition.

Once you are fitted with an ICD you might want to stay away from magnets and strong electrical fields. Make sure to inform the airport or other screeners that you have a heart defibrillator, and don’t forget to carry your ICD ID card. 

Security devices in public places may detect the metal in your ICD, although they won’t damage it. Showing your card may save you some inconvenience.

Having an ICD might mean having restrictions on activity, but they vary according to the underlying condition and other factors. 

In some countries, people with ICD are forbidden from driving commercially.

After ICD implantation make sure to be mindful about your mental health. Life or death experiences are known to cause anxiety and depression and, unfortunately, it is uncommon for people to seek treatment.

Will Eriksen continue his career? 

It is not yet clear whether having an ICD will affect Eriksen’s career, but some players such as Dutchman Daley Blind have been able to get back on the pitch with a similar device. Daley had been fitted with an ICD after being diagnosed with an inflamed heart muscle in 2019.Professional sports are associated with high levels of physical efforts and an elevated risk of heart issues. Nevertheless, sudden cardiac arrest most oftenly comes as a surprise. However, there exist devices that can predict such sad outcomes. For example, used daily, RANKEL Cardiocode keeps track of the athlete’s condition and predicts various accidents related to heart disease.

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