Harvard Heart Letter

When an implantable defibrillator fails

Here are the options when the leads on your device stop working.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) kills up to 350,000 people a year. It is caused by a malfunction in the heart's electrical system that can occur when the lower chambers of the heart suddenly start beating in an uncoordinated fashion, preventing the heart from pumping blood out to the lungs and body. Unless the heart is shocked back into normal rhythm, the person rarely survives.

Many people at risk for SCD rely on an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to do this job. These small, sophisticated devices are implanted under the skin near the shoulder blade and are connected to the heart by thin wires, called leads. ICD wearers can go about their daily activities with the confidence they have an internal set of shock paddles to reset their heart's rhythm, should it be necessary.

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