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Heart doctors say implant devices aren’t for everyone. New study could prove it

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Doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center implant roughly 300 implantable cardioverter defibrillators a year.

The device monitors and treats irregular heart rhythms in patients with acute heart conditions. It sends a mild shock to the heart to stabilize it if an abnormal rhythm is detected.

But physicians believe that ICDs are not always the best choice for patients—and that in many cases other options should be explored.

“Not all patients derive benefit from the device, and medical therapy, for the treatment of sudden death, has advanced,” said Dr. Ilan Goldenberg, director of UR Medicine’s Clinical Cardiovascular Research Center.

Goldenberg and Dr. David Huang, the director of cardiac electrophysiology at URMC, are co-leading a new study that will identify which patients "should be treated more aggressively with ICD or not.”

It's been more than two decades since the last heart rhythm research study was conducted.

Those results led to the current guidelines for ICD use, which Huang said do not reflect current pharmaceutical advancements.

“The medications that are now being used to treat heart failure, many of those medicines can stabilize heart failure,” said Huang. “Stabilizing the heart failure can prevent a lot of the strong signals in the body that potentially can lead to many of these dangerous heart rhythm episodes.”

Goldenberg said about 90% of patients do not benefit from implantable heart defibrillators, and in fact, they may cause unnecessary side effects like inappropriate shocks, anxiety, and infections.

The study is set to kick off in the summer and results may take up to six years to produce.

Racquel Stephen is WXXI's health, equity and community reporter and producer. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.