Playing sports with a defibrillator

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Some young adults who have inherited heart conditions that put them at risk of sudden cardiac arrest require an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD. For years, the conventional wisdom—as well as professional society recommendations—was that these athletes should engage in no sport more strenuous than golf. Now a Yale study published in June in Circulation suggests that the risks are lower than previously thought. A team led by Rachel J. Lampert, M.D., professor of medicine (cardiology), enrolled more than 400 athletes with ICDs inside and outside the United States in a study to determine the risks of sports participation. Every six months over four years, the researchers checked in to see whether the athletes had had any adverse event while playing sports. While some did have shocks when their defibrillators detected an abnormal heart rhythm, none suffered the worst consequences—defibrillator failure, injury, or death. “We can’t say all athletes with ICDs should do vigorous sports,” said Lampert, “but our data imply that this can be an individualized decision between doctor and patient.”