An implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) is a small device that is implanted in the chest to help correct irregular life threatening heart rhythms (ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation). When the heart starts beating abnormally the ICD delivers an electrical impulse to the heart to shock it back into a normal heart rhythm. Patients with a weakened heart muscle (congestive heart failure) due to irregular pathways of caused by a heart attack, cardiomyopathy or high blood pressure are at risk for irregular heart rhythms. Research studies have shown that patients with irregular heart rhythms (ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation) are less likely to die suddenly after they receive an ICD. Many of these studies have included mostly men. So what is the impact of ICDs on a woman’s survival?
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2009) found that women with heart failure were just as likely to die with an ICD as women who did not receive the device. Men in the study had a 22% lower risk of dying if they had an ICD. But no benefit was observed in women with the ICD. The researchers suggest that because women are less likely to die from sudden irregular heart rhythms than men they are less likely to benefit from an ICD. Women are more likely to die from other causes. Since this study looked at the risk of death from any cause the results need to be reviewed with caution. Women who are candidates for an ICD should not be alarmed by the findings of this one study, clearly more data is needed. Women need to discuss their individual benefits and risks with their physicians to determine the most appropriate treatment.
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