ICD Sounds and Alerts

Is your ICD beeping?
Did you even know that it makes sounds?
Do you know what the sounds mean? 

Just having an ICD may already have put you in an anxious state, so knowing what sounds your device may emit is well worth knowing so you don’t panic if you should ever hear them.

Many SCA survivors receive an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (and/or pacemaker) shortly after their event and we all know that time can all be a bit of a blur. You may have been lucky and got a full run-through of the device and its features.  If you didn’t you can always read the instruction guide, but it won’t be able to show you the inbuilt alerting features aka patient notifiers. 

Don’t panic though, patient alerts are rare and in general use, your ICD will be silent. However, in certain situations, it may make sounds or vibrations to alert you of conditions that you need to be aware of. 

If you do get an alert, you do not need to attend A&E unless you feel unwell.

The alerts can vary depending on the manufacturer, the device and even the individual programming.  Some devices make sounds (generally beeps), some just vibrate, some do both and some don’t make any at all!

If you want to know what yours does, why not ask at your next checkup and maybe even have a demonstration.

Reasons for ICD’s to  Alert

Alerts made by a device will vary depending on the manufacturer and device type, but there are common reasons and these are listed below:

  1. Your battery life is low
  2. There is a fault with the device or lead(s)
  3. You have received a therapeutic shock
  4. There is magnetic field disabling or interfering with the device
  5. The device has been unable to communicate with your home monitor for longer than the recommended time (2 weeks?)
ManufacturerAlert TypeToneComment
MedtronicAudible30 sec High Urgency
30 sec Low Urgency
10 sec solid tone  
Solid tone – magnet alert tone
NB. Tones are programmable
Boston ScientificAudible16 tones repeated every 6 hoursMRI scan permanently disables beeper tone.
If this occurs recommended patients followed up on Remote Monitoring
AbbottVibratory6 second vibration
16 seconds of silence
6 second vibration
10 seconds silence
Then the pattern repeats    
 
BiotronikNo Alert  N/A  Relies on Remote Monitoring
Sorin/MicroportNo Alert   N/A    

Low Battery

When the device battery starts to come towards the end of its life it will periodically emit a warning sound.  This alert is usually at the same time of day and typically 3-6 months before battery depletion.

Device or Lead fault

If your device has a fault or there is something wrong with a lead an alert will also be emitted.

If either of the situations above arise you should contact your ICD clinic as soon as possible so that they may investigate the alert further and any remediable action taken.

Therapeutic Shock

If you have received a therapeutic shock and your device is beeping then you should contact your ICD clinic immediately.  Not all devices beep after a shock and not all patients need to see a Doctor after receiving a shock, but if you feel unwell or are anxious it is always worth contacting your ICD clinic and they will be able give you further information i.e. whether shock was appropriate or not.

It is always worth planning for a shock so you and your family know what to do should it happen.

Read more at: ICD Shocks

Magnetic Field

If you get an alarm because of a temporary situation i.e. you are in a magnetic field you should try to rectify the situation as quickly as possible by moving away from the source.  You should be aware that if the ICD sound continues your device may be disabled and may not activate should you require it.  This is a potentially dangerous situation to be in, but you should not panic – the likelihood of you needing your device to activate at that precise moment is extremely low.  However, you should attempt to remedy the situation as quickly as possible and if the alarm continues after moving away from the triggering source, then you should contact your ICD clinic as soon as possible.

Read more at: ICD Electromagnetic Compatibility

ICD/Home Monitor Communication Failure

If you have a home monitor and the ICD has been unable to communicate with it for a prolonged period of time you may receive an alarm.  For short holidays and breaks the general advice is for people not to take their home monitor with them, but if you are away for a prolonged period it would be worth checking with your ICD clinic first so that you are not alarmed unnecessarily.

If you get an alert and are away from easy access to your usual clinic and need to find an alternative you may be able to get help from one of the ICD suppliers other centres:

Read more at: ICD Support Centre Locator

The Sounds

It seems the manufacturers of ICD’s aren’t that forthcoming with what sounds their devices make, but we have sourced some recordings and other articles that you may find of interest.

Please be aware that these are just examples of sounds you may hear from your device and they may be different from your actual one.  It’s also worth reiterating that these alerts and sounds can be programmed for each individual and varies from clinic to clinic and patient to patient depending on experience, circumstances and operational factors. 

If you want to know exactly what your ICD sounds like, ask for a demonstration the next time you visit your ICD clinic.

Medtronic

Medtronic official website

SCA UK
Medtronic Official

Boston Scientific

Low battery 1
Low battery 2

Abbott (formerly St Judes)

Abbott – Understanding the Patient Notifier

Biotronik

No patient alerts are emitted from their devices

Sorin/Microport

No patient alerts are emitted from their devices

Inside Information

Doug Rachac is an SCA survivor and ICD owner, but also a former Medtronic employee with good experience on implantable devices.  He has a YouTube channel with some excellent videos in which he talks about devices and their features, including the following one on Medtronic ICD device tones.