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Turning Off Your ICD - Topic Overview

How does your ICD help you?

Your ICD can save your life.

Your ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) is always checking your heart rate and rhythm. If the ICD detects a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm, it tries to slow the rhythm to get it back to normal. If the dangerous rhythm doesn't stop, the ICD sends an electrical shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm.

Your ICD may also work as a pacemaker. It can fix a heart rate that is too fast or too slow. It may do so without using a shock.

Should you consider turning off your ICD?

Even though an ICD can help fix heart rate or rhythm problems, you may not want this at the end of life. Many people consider turning off their ICD when their health goal changes from living longer to getting the most comfort possible at the end of life. The shocks the ICD delivers are painful. Not being shocked will make you more comfortable at the end of life.

As you plan for your future and your end of life, include plans for your ICD. The decision to turn off your ICD is part of the medical treatment you want at the end of life. You can put this information in your advanced directive.

Turning off your ICD is legal. It isn't considered suicide. The decision to leave on or turn off your ICD is a medical decision you make based on your values.

What happens if the ICD is turned off?

Turning off an ICD isn't hard. The ICD isn't taken out of your chest, and you don't need surgery. Your doctor will use a computer to reprogram the ICD so that it doesn't give you shocks. This isn't painful.

Turning off the ICD won't cause death, and it won't make you feel worse. But because the ICD won't give you a shock if you have a life-threatening heart rhythm, this type of heart rhythm could lead to death.

Pacemakers

Some ICDs are combined with a pacemaker. You can turn off the ICD without turning off the pacemaker. Turning off a pacemaker means your heart might not pump blood as well as it should. This could make you feel worse instead of more comfortable.

Depending on your heart condition, turning off a pacemaker could result in death.

Who makes the decision?

You make the decision about whether or not you want to turn off your ICD. It can be a tough decision to make, but you don't have to make it alone. Look to your family, your doctor, your spiritual adviser, and your friends for help and support.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 08, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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