Examining the psychosocial impact of implantable cardioverter defibrillators: a literature review

Clin Cardiol. 1999 Jul;22(7):481-9. doi: 10.1002/clc.4960220709.


Background: The implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) has proven to be superior to medications in treating potentially life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias, resulting in reduced mortality rates. Despite the number of patients receiving this therapy, its psychosocial impact is not well understood.

Hypothesis: The purposes of this paper are (1) to review the available literature documenting the psychosocial impact of the ICD on patients, (2) to hypothesize possible mechanisms for this psychosocial impact, and (3) to suggest clinical risk profiles and indications for psychological consultation.

Methods: Electronic and library searches (e.g., MEDLINE, PsychLit) were used to gather studies examining the psychosocial impact of the ICD. Only studies investigating psychosocial outcomes (e.g., psychological distress, quality of life, social and role functioning), either prospectively or cross-sectionally, were admitted into the review. No literature reviews or secondary sources were included.

Results and conclusions: Current research suggests that ICD-specific fears and symptoms of anxiety (e.g., excessive worry, physiological arousal) are the most common psychological symptoms experienced by ICD recipients, with approximately 13-38% of recipients experiencing diagnosable levels of anxiety. Depressive symptoms are reported at rates that are generally consistent with other cardiac populations. Although the incidence of psychological disorders appears to be similar to that found in general cardiac populations, specific ICD-related concerns such as fear of shock, fear of device malfunction, fear of death, and fear of embarrassment have been identified. Selected psychological theories such as classical conditioning, learned helplessness, and a cognitive appraisal model help to explain the occurrence of psychological symptoms post implantation. Psychosocial adjustment risk profiles indicate that young ICD recipients and those with high discharge rates may experience the most adjustment difficulties.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Defibrillators, Implantable / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Adjustment*