How to Recover From Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator Surgery

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An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is commonly implanted in patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. The defibrillator provides a shock to the heart if it were to go into a deadly arrhythmia. The surgery takes about two hours and typically requires an overnight stay in the hospital. There are specific guidelines a patient must follow after release from the hospital in order to recover appropriately from this type of surgery.

  • Prepare to not raise your left arm above shoulder level for one month. It takes about one month for scar tissue to surround the defibrillator lead in the heart and secure it. If you lift your arm above shoulder level prior to the scar tissue having a chance to form, you run the risk of pulling the lead out. If the lead were to come out, most likely the procedure would have to be repeated.

  • Understand that you cannot lift more than five pounds for the first month. Lifting more than this can put a strain not only on your incision area, but also a strain on the defibrillator lead. The straining could cause the lead to dislodge. A gallon of milk weighs more than five pounds, so be aware of what you are lifting and take extra caution.

  • Rely on others to drive you for the first month. You will not be able to drive a vehicle for four weeks after the surgery. When driving you often must quickly jerk your arms to make a quick turn or swerve out of the way of something. Jerking your left arm quickly can lead to pain for you and also may harm the lead before it is embedded in the scar tissue.

  • Take your pain medication if needed. People are often surprised that there is quite a bit of pain after a procedure such as this. If you are in pain, take pain medication if it is prescribed to you. If you don't have prescription pain medication, Ibuprofen may help as needed.

  • Carry your defibrillator information card that is sent to you. This card will be shown at the airport or other areas with high security. It is important that you not be wanded after the ICD is implanted. You may walk through security but the wands have a high magentic component to them and may harm your ICD.

Tips & Warnings

  • Make sure you follow your cardiac surgeon's instructions for the best recovery possible. It's important to listen to every instruction given to you.
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