Study: Many athletes with implantable defibrillators can do sports

Some young adults have inherited heart conditions that require them to receive an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD. For years, they were told they could not engage in sports more vigorous than golf. But a new study led by a Yale researcher suggests that the risks of participating in sports for many athletes with ICDs are actually quite low.

Led by Yale cardiologist Dr. Rachel Lampert, the research team identified patients with ICDs from 42 research sites across North America and 19 outside of the continent, and also through patient advocacy groups. They interviewed the athletes and collected clinical information from their doctors. Over a four-year period, the researchers checked in with the study participants every six months to ascertain whether they had any adverse event during a sports activity.

The researchers found that none of the athletes with ICDs suffered the consequences that had been feared, including defibrillator failure, injury, or death. While some did experience shocks when the defibrillators detected an abnormal heart rhythm, those events did not cause injury.

“The risk is low,” said Lampert. “We can’t say all athletes [with ICDs] should do vigorous sports but it can be an individualized decision between doctor and patient.”

Read the full paper in Circulation.