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Apr 07, 2015

Despite Common Fears, Exercise Safe for Patients with ICDs

Exercise is not only safe but improves heart health of patients with ICDs, says study.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are small devices placed in the chest or abdomen that help detect and control irregular heartbeats using electrical shocks. ICDs are often used in patients with heart failure or an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation to prevent sudden cardiac death. Although ICDs can be lifesaving, many patients worry that exercise and even daily household activities may provoke an ICD shock. These fears are largely unfounded, based on results of a study conducted at the University of Washington School of Nursing and recently published in Circulation.

This study included 160 patients receiving ICDs, half of whom were randomly chosen to participate in an exercise program for six months. For the first two months, adults in the exercise program were asked to walk one hour a day, five times a week. During the last four months, participants were asked to walk at least 2.5 hours a week. Subjects not participating in the exercise program received standard care.

After following participants for six months, researchers found that the exercise program significantly improved fitness, which is important to heart health. Contrary to common fears, there were no differences in hospitalizations or deaths between the two study groups, and exercise did not cause ICD shocks in subjects.

It’s estimated that 1 million Americans have an ICD, and half of them say they avoid activities like cleaning, exercise and even sex. Based on study findings, authors conclude that prescribed home exercise is not only safe but helps improve the heart health of patients with ICDs. As such, authors highlight the importance of educating patients with these devices and encouraging regular exercise for better health and improved quality of life.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)?
  • An ICD is a device that uses electrical pulses or shocks to help patients with an irregular heartbeat maintain normal heart rhythm. Upon detecting an abnormal heart rhythm, ICDs send shocks to the heart to help restore normal rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac death.
  • Who needs an ICD?
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators are used to help prevent sudden cardiac death, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. Most patients with ICDs have a history of sudden cardiac arrest or have been diagnosed with a rapid heartbeat, called ventricular tachycardia. However, ICDs may also be considered for patients at high risk for sudden cardiac death.

Featured Video

Dr. Kanny S. Grewal, FACC, presents at a Living with Atrial Fibrillation event in Columbus, Ohio in Oct. 2014.


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