Implantable Defibrillators, Vigorous Sports


Don’t feel side-lined just because you have an implantable defibrillator. According to new research, many people can safely participate in vigorous sports activities, as noted in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Implanted Defibrillators

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator(ICD) in the chest is somewhat similar to a pacemaker, delivering one or more electrical shocks to restore a normal heartbeat when it detects a dangerous rhythm. Some science recommendations advise people with ICDs not to participate in competitive sports more vigorous than golf or bowling.

“But these recommendations were based on the best judgment of physicians, not actual data looking at the safety of more rigorous sports,” says Rachel Lampert, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT.

Competitive athletes studied

Researchers followed 372 ICD recipients, ages 10-60, for an average of two-and-a-half years each. They included competitive athletes, high school and college athletes and others who participated in vigorous sports such as running, basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, skiing and snowboarding.

Researchers found that although some athletes received shocks during sports for life-threatening and non-life-threatening heart rhythms, there were no injuries or deaths related to the shocks or the underlying abnormal rhythms.

Seventy-seven people received 121 shocks during the study. Of the total study population:

  • 10 percent received shocks while participating in competition or practice.
  • 8 percent received shocks during other physical activities.
  • 6 percent received shocks while resting.

The rate of shocks among those studied was similar to those reported in previous studies for less active people with implantable defibrillators, Lampert says.

Ask your doctor

While these results are encouraging, you should talk with your physician before you decide to return to vigorous sports, Lampert says. Discuss your specific situation and activity preference.

Read more from the American Heart Association about abnormal heart rhythms and living with an ICD.

Find out more about living with heart disease from Go Red.