ICDs are pacemaker-like devices that continuously monitor the heart's rhythm, and deliver life-saving shocks if a dangerous heart rhythm is detected. ICDs are placed in the hearts of people who have had certain abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). The first full human implantation of an ICD occurred in February 1980. The device has been improved since then to identify arrhythmias and provide electrical shocks to restore normal rhythm.

An ICD is connected to leads positioned inside the heart or on its surface. These leads are tunneled to a pulse generator, which is implanted in a pouch beneath the skin of the chest of abdomen. Newer devices are smaller and have simpler lead systems, which can be installed through blood vessels, therefore eliminating the need for open-chest surgery.

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