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An arrhythmia is any disorder of your heart rate or rhythm. It means that your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or with an irregular pattern. Most arrhythmias result from problems in the electrical system of the heart. If your arrhythmia is serious, you may need a cardiac pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). They are devices that are implanted in your chest or abdomen.
A pacemaker helps control abnormal heart rhythms. It uses electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate. It can speed up a slow heart rhythm, control a fast heart rhythm, and coordinate the chambers of the heart.
An ICD monitors heart rhythms. If it senses dangerous rhythms, it delivers shocks. This treatment is called defibrillation. An ICD can help control life-threatening arrhythmias, especially those that can cause sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Most new ICDs can act as both a pacemaker and a defibrillator. Many ICDs also record the heart's electrical patterns when there is an abnormal heartbeat. This can help the doctor plan future treatment.
Getting a pacemaker or ICD requires minor surgery. You usually need to stay in the hospital for a day or two, so your doctor can make sure that the device is working well. You will probably be back to your normal activities within a few days.
- Cardioverter-Defibrillator: A Treatment for Arrhythmia (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- What Are Defibrillators? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- What Are Pacemakers? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- What Is a Pacemaker? (American Heart Association) - PDF
- Coping with My Partner's ICD and Cardiac Disease (American Heart Association)
- Living with Your Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) (American Heart Association)
- Coping with Trauma and Stressful Events As a Patient with an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (American Heart Association)
- Devices that May Interfere with ICDs and Pacemakers (American Heart Association)
- Questions to Ask Your Doctor: Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) (American Heart Association)
- Sexual Health for Patients with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (American Heart Association)
- Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT) (American Heart Association)
Statistics and Research
- Shock from heart device often triggers further health care needs (American Heart Association)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Defibrillators, Implantable (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Pacemaker, Artificial (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Modifiable risk factors for permanent pacemaker after transcatheter aortic valve implantation:...
- Article: Effects of Chronic Remote Ischemic Conditioning on Atrial Fibrillation Burden in...
- Article: Rationale and design of SAN.OK randomized clinical trial and registry: Comparison...
- Pacemakers and Implantable Defibrillators -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- My Child Needs or Has an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator: What Should I Do? (American Heart Association)
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- Heart pacemaker (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Heart pacemaker - discharge (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Implantable cardioverter defibrillator - discharge (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish