Recent Blog Articles

Heart Health

Living with an implantable defibrillator

July 1, 2021

Ask the doctor

Q. My 79-year-old father recently received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. While he seems to be doing okay, he and my mother are both very anxious about what will happen if he ends up needing a shock. I live nearby and want to support them, so can you offer any advice? I’d also like to be aware of the general advice for people who have these devices.

A. You can reassure your parents that feeling anxious about a shock from an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is both understandable and fairly common. An ICD continuously monitors the heart’s rhythm and rate, checking for abnormalities. If it senses a minor glitch, the device emits a low-energy electrical correction that might go unnoticed. But correcting a potentially life-threatening rhythm problem requires a significant jolt. Some patients have told me it feels as though they’ve been kicked in the chest by a horse. It may help to know that many people with ICDs never receive a shock. In fact, recent improvements allow doctors to program the devices to have a longer period of "watching" to allow the errant rhythm to terminate on its own before delivering a shock.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.