Heart Device Is Not a Sports Spoiler

Implantable defibrillators for arrhythmias do not prohibit participating in vigorous sports

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Many people who have implantable defibrillators to treat their irregular heartbeats are advised to take it easy when it comes to sports, but this recommendation may be overly cautious.

Some scientists advise individuals with implantable cardioverter devices (ICDs) not to participate in competitive sports more vigorous than golf or bowling.

A new study has found that patients with ICDs may safely engage in more rigorous physical activity.

"Talk with your cardiologist about participating in sports."

An ICD is a small box with a pulse generator, small computer and battery that is implanted in a patient’s chest or abdomen. Wires from the box are connected to the heart chambers. The computer monitors heart rhythms and, if it detects irregularity, it sends low-energy electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.

Rachel Lampert, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, worked with a team of researchers who followed 372 ICD recipients, ages 10 to 60, for an average of two-and-a-half years each.

The subjects included competitive athletes, high school and college athletes and others who pursued strenuous sports such as running, basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, skiing and snowboarding.

Although some athletes received shocks during sports for life-threatening and non-life-threatening heart rhythms, none had injuries or died because of the shocks or the underlying abnormal rhythms, according to the authors.

Over the duration of the study, 77 people received 121 shocks. Of the total investigation population, 10 percent received shocks while participating in competition or practice; 8 percent received shocks during other physical activities; and 6 percent received shocks while resting.

When reviewing previous research, Dr. Lampert found that the rate of shocks among individuals in this study was similar to the rate of shocks experienced by less active people with ICDs.

These data suggest that athletes should decide, with their physicians, whether to return to vigorous sports after discussing their specific situation and preferences, Dr. Lampert said.

All patients in this study were using ICDs to treat arrhythmia. With this condition, electrical impulses may happen too fast, too slowly or erratically, causing the heart to beat irregularly. When the heart doesn't beat properly and pump blood effectively, the lungs, brain and all other organs can't work properly and may shut down or be damaged.

The study was published in May in Circulation, a journal from the American Heart Association. Boston Scientific, Medtronic and St. Jude Medical funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 22, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013