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Living with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

Your ICD is a device that watches the electrical signals in your heart. Most ICDs are well protected from other electrical device interference. Microwave ovens and most common household and yard appliances will not cause problems. Signals from some large electric or magnetic fields can make interference "noise" on your ICD. This can cause problems. Possible sources of interference include certain heavy equipment, strong magnets, running motors, and large tools like commercial arc welders. You shouldn't work on your car with the motor running, but it's safe to drive. Check with your doctor about any large, unusual power tools you use.   

Man wearing cell phone headset.
Cell phones don’t usually cause problems, but don't carry your phone in your shirt pocket right over the ICD.

Signals That Cause Problems

To protect your ICD, take special precautions around:

  • Cellular phones. Always carry a cell phone on the side opposite your ICD and at least 6 inches away from it. While using a cell phone, wear a headset or hold the phone to the ear opposite your ICD.

  • Electromagnetic anti-theft systems. These are often near entrances or exits in stores. Walking through one is OK, but avoid standing near or leaning against one.

  • Strong electrical fields. These can be caused by radio transmitting towers and heavy-duty electrical equipment (such as arc welders). A running engine also produces an electrical field. It’s OK to ride in a car, but avoid leaning over the open hood of a running car.

  • Very strong magnets. Talk with your heart doctor if another doctor tells you to have an MRI (a medical test that uses magnets). Magnets in big speakers (such as on a stereo or at a concert) and in hand-held security wands (such as those used at airports) can cause problems if they come too close to the ICD.

 

If a Signal Interferes

If it’s near one of the signals described above, the ICD could turn off or its settings could reset. You could even get a shock. If you think you were exposed to a signal like this, call your doctor and explain what happened.

Carry an ID Card

You’ll be given a temporary ID card when you get your ICD. The permanent card will be mailed to you in about 6 weeks. Show this card to any doctor, dentist, or other medical professional you visit. Also show it to guards at the airport. This way, they know to follow special procedures that prevent the security wand from interfering with your ICD.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2/26/2014
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