Can You Trust Online Health Message Boards?

Online medical advice about heart defibrillators may not be accurate

(RxWiki News) Medical advice on message boards may not be as accurate as you think.

According to preliminary research, medical advice about implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) found on an online message board was accurate only half of the time. That means message board readers were potentially exposed to a lot of inaccurate health information.

This study also found that about a quarter of advice on the online message board was inappropriate and 6 percent was controversial.

“Our findings indicate that patients should be advised that discussions on these online message boards can provide some good, basic information, but more complicated and in-depth advice may be problematic,” said lead study author Dr. Christopher Knoepke, of the University of Colorado Denver, in a press release.

What does that mean for you? Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask your health care provider any questions you have. Having accurate information helps you make informed decisions about your health. For more information about ICDs, see below.

What Are ICDs?

ICDs are tiny, battery-powered devices that are surgically placed in the chest. The ICD consists of wires (leads) that are guided through a vein into your heart, where they will be connected to the defibrillator.

ICDs detect an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can be life-threatening. If the device detects that your heart is beating too quickly or irregularly, it will first send small, painless electrical signals to correct the problem. If the fast or abnormal heart rate continues, the defibrillator quickly sends an electrical shock to the heart, which changes the rhythm back to normal. This process is called defibrillation.

ICDs have been instrumental in preventing sudden death in patients with known, sustained types of arrhythmias, such as ventricular tachycardia.

An ICD is recommended for those who are at high risk of sudden cardiac death from an abnormal heart rhythm. You may be at risk if you have had episodes of abnormal heart rhythms or if you were born with a heart problem.

What You Need to Know

After the ICD is implanted, most patients can gradually go back to their normal activities. However, it is extremely important to ask your health care provider what you can and cannot do after the ICD has been implanted. For example, you need to know whether you should avoid rough contact sports. In addition, ask your health care provider about which types of machines or equipment you should avoid.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that those with ICDs remain aware of their surroundings and the devices that may interfere with the ICD's operation. Potentially disruptive devices include those with strong magnetic fields, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. These devices can disrupt the ICD’s signaling and prevent it from working the way it should. In some cases, you may not even know this is happening. The longer your ICD is exposed to the potentially disruptive device and the closer it is to your ICD, the more likely your ICD is to be affected.

The following recommendations can help keep you safe and make sure you are not exposing your ICD to potentially disruptive devices:

  • Always carry your ICD ID card to prove that you have an ICD.
  • Notify all of your health care professionals that you have an ICD before they start any test or procedure using medical or electronic devices.
  • When in doubt, consult your doctor.

One of the most common questions people have about ICDs is whether you can continue to use a cell phone. The AHA notes that, currently, phones available in the United States (less than three watts) are associated with a very small risk of disrupting ICDs. However, several phone companies are studying the effects newer cell phones may have on ICDs.

The AHA recommends keeping your cell phone at least six inches away from your ICD. You can do this by using the cell phone on the ear opposite of your ICD site and not keeping the phone in your front chest pocket. Patients should also keep walkie-talkies (three watts or less) at least six inches away from the ICD site, according to the AHA.

Ask your health care provider any questions you have about your ICD.