Sunday, August 30, 2009

That little beep could be telling you something

Last Thursday night while lying in bed, I heard a faint beeping sound. We had been out earlier in the evening with friends. While I usually try to eat healthy, I had indulged in too much fried food and I had two glasses of wine, so I was feeling heavy and sluggish. Without worry and in that dreamy, almost asleep state I tried to figure out where the sound was coming from. As it was one of the rare warm nights in the Bay Area and our window was open, I figured it must be a truck backing up somewhere in the distance and the sound just traveled. Now that I had the noise categorized, I drifted off to dreamland.

But the next morning, while having a cup of coffee heard the sound again. The first thing I did was check my laptop... then I checked Phillip's laptop, then I checked the coffee maker. Then, as I was walking down the hall to check the alarm clocks, I remember the sound from last night and at that same moment realized the sound was coming from me. What a strange feeling.

This is my first beeping experience and it is not at all what I thought it would sound like. I thought it would be more of an English emergency siren. When I had to go in for the Fidelis lead check up (yes, I have one of those) they played the alarm for me and it was a two toned sound, like an English Emergency siren. This is not that sound at all. It is a single tone, off/on beep. And it was in my chest. Weird.

My ICD is only three years old. I don't get paced and there had been no previous indications that my battery was getting low. However, I do have a lead that has been recalled by the manufacturer, that is always a concern.

I called my cardiologist’s office, explained the alarm sound and they had me send in a carelink report (Medtronic’s remote monitoring system). They told me there would be a delay, but they would get the information as quickly as they can and call me back. About an hour later, the nurse called and told me that the impendence levels had changed and that I needed to come in immediately. They didn’t have to tell me why. I understood. I knew the monitoring on the recalled lead has be set so that it will trigger an alarm if there is a change as that is the first signal that the lead has fractured. A fractured lead can cause a “noise” in the system that the device can read as an arrhythmia. This could lead to the device delivering a shock when I don’t really needed, an inappropriate shock.

What threw me was the tone of the alarm. Since this is coming from inside your body, the sound is a little muted, but is was audible. As I mentioned already, the alarm they demonstrated for me was a two tone, high/low sound. But the alarm I heart was a single pitch, off/on sound. I am still not sure why that was different, but the alarm got my attention, I called the doctor and the doctors had me come into the office. In the end it didn’t matter which sound it was, it worked as it should have to help me avoid inappropriate shocks.

Hear the alerts of a Medtronic ICD:

  • Listen to Low alert or high alert.

  • Alternating High/Low or On/Off tones:

    Your ICD has detected an alert condition (low battery, abnormal lead impedance, electrical reset condition, etc.) This tone will last for 30 seconds (in older models) or 10 or 20 seconds (in newer models). You should contact your physician if you hear this tone. In the vast majority of cases this is not an emergency or life threatening condition—but it is important to find out what is going on. The alternating tone alarm will never go off just once. It will go off regularly at consistent intervals until the ICD is interrogated at the clinic and the condition that triggered it is resolved in some way. Most commonly the alarm will go off daily at the exact same time each day. This time is programmable and they likely told you when it would be or maybe even let you select it when they set up your device.

  • Listen to No condition.

  • Steady tone at one fixed pitch:

    Everything is OK. Indicates that a magnetic field have been detected by the ICD. The tone will last for 30 seconds (in older devices) or 10 or 20 seconds (in newer devices). Every time the ICD detects the magnetic field the alarm will re-sound. During the time your ICD is in the magnetic field, it is DISABLED (shocks are TURNED OFF). When your ICD leaves the field, everything returns to normal (if you are no longer hearing the alarm, you have left the field).

    There are several reasons for this ICD feature. First, if for some reason your ICD needs to be temporarily shut off (for example, if you're having surgery), then this tone would let doctors know that when they place a magnet over the ICD they have in fact disabled the ICD. Second, it is a way to check that the ICD is OK without having to go to the clinic—this feature is being used for checking the Medtronic Marquis devices that are affected by the battery recall. They also try to hear this All-OK tone after a surgery or procedure in order to verify that their equipment didn't damage your ICD.


Anonymous said...

The comment below was received via email on 6/16/11 4:09 PM. It is printed here, verbatim, at the sender's request.
I was ready to tell the story about my five heart arrests, one heart attack and my wonderful ICD to a meeting of Toastmasters. On the way to the Community Centre I suddenly heard an alarm in my car and again after a few minutes. When I parked at the building I discovered that the alarm was coming from the ICD in my chest. I had no idea what the reason for the alarm could be, other than that my heart was going into fibrillation or might stop, as before. I went to the meeting room and told one of the members what had happened and that the stakes were too high for me to present my speech.

Back home my wife was shocked about the news and she phoned the local hospital. They advised us to come to emergency immediately. I said to her that I just quickly want to search the Internet for information on ‘ICD alarms.’ I found the website,, a website where you can listen to examples of various ICD alarm sounds. I identified the alarm that I heard and read that this specific alarm is caused when the ICD detects a magnetic field. That seemed very strange to me but then it struck me. I was already wearing my Toastmasters name tag and ........ the name tag uses a magnetic field to clip onto the jacket!!!! The name tag was right over the ICD.

Afterwards I started laughing about the funny side of this experience, the serious fright and the huge uncertainty, all caused by a simple Toastmasters name tag in its right place on my jacket!

Phil Minnaar

Anonymous said...

These recordings are extremely helpful. They didn't bother to tell me about them when I got my pacemaker.

Anonymous said...

I have had the single tone beeping twice this week, after the first one I had the device interrogated and it showed nothing. My device also buzzed (similar to a cell phone vibration) Does anyone have any experience with the buzzing sound?

Jan F said...

my son's partner was given a new bracelet yesterday for Christmas. This morning, my son heard a one tone alarm coming from his ICD. We thought he may have been mistaken, but having heard the alarm again within a twelve hour period, we decided to send a download to the hospital. Then did a little research on the internet. his partner's bracelet is made of hemetite, which is magnetised, and the single tone he heard indicated that the icd had detected a magnetic field. These bracelets are extremely popular this Christmas, so be aware of jewellery folks.

Jan F said...

My son's partner was given a new bracelet yesterday for Christmas. This morning, my son heard a one tone alarm coming from his ICD. We thought he may have been mistaken, but having heard the alarm again within a twelve hour period, we decided to send a download to the hospital. Then did a little research on the internet. His partner's bracelet is made of hemetite, which is magnetised, and the single tone he heard indicated that the icd had detected a magnetic field. These bracelets are extremely popular this Christmas, so be aware of jewellery folks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much to who ever wrote this article and included the alert tones. My husband and I woke up and were having our usual morning chit chat until he started beeping he has been fired on before so he started to get very anxious and panicky I googled medtronic defibrillator tones and found in this article he had a low alert tone replaying it gave him the shivers. He is due for battery soon and I'm thinking that's it but never can be too sure we still are going to the er as it is Saturday and can't get in contact with reg physician and cardiologist but we were able to relax a little thank you sooo much this was a nerve saver .lol

Mohammad Jamal said...

Regarding the High-Low beeping sound, will the device take any actions by itself such as shocks ? My ICD is around 5 years old already and I don't know if it was the battery or a Magnetic field or even something else, as the times i heard it going I was using my laptop placed on my belly.

frances d. said...

I assume an ICD is a pacemaker...I have one that's checked regularly. Last time, within a few weeks ago, suddenly atrial fibs were showing up. Odd, because usually when my heart has speeded up in the past (before the pacemaker) I knew it. They said there were episodes as long as 3 hrs. Even if I were sleeping, I should feel that! Then, about 10 days ago, something did wake me up - a very faint, regular, high-pitched beep. LIke the other person, I thought of every possible explanation. The fact is, I only hear it when my heads on the pillow and my hearing is sufficiently focussed. Rest of the time, I have
tinnitus. Called the doc who put the device in 4 years ago and he called he company, St. Jude, who said, get this, their device shouldn't beep! Still they want to see me and will call tomorrow to set up an appt with the doc. Don't you love it when something happens and someone's response - often a doctor - is "that shouldn't be happening?" Somehow the onus then shifts to me to make my case credible.
I'll post again when I know what's going on. I should be grateful it wasn't the smoke alarm!

Steve Strickland said...

I heard a two-tone bleep for three days and searched round for something which might have made it, always at 9.05am or 5.05pm. I had no idea it might be my ICD/CRT telling me a fault had occurred. I did notice however that the bleep followed me around, eventually I checked online and found this group, the recording was exactly what my alarm sounded like! I rang my hospital and went straight in, the unit was interrogated and it was found that a lead impedance had changed, alterations were made to the settings and all now seems ok. Many thanks for help from this group.

La Creative Latina Diva said...

Thanks to my friend Bruce for finding this site and the information on the different tones. I was getting in my car this morning and had my laptop bag on my left shoulder. I leaned in my car to put some things on the seat and I heard a sound which I've never heard before. Initially I thought it was myself phone. After a few seconds I realized it was coming from my chest. It was not a beeping sound but a solid high-pitched tone. I called my friend Bruce and asked him to check on the sound for me as I was driving. He found the site Heard the different towns and informed me that he felt that it was a magnetic issue. My first thought is that it was my iPad and tablet that I had on my bag.

Called my cardiologist office and left a message. Then I proceeded to call Metronic. They to inform me that I had come in contact with some type of magnetic field and perhaps it was from the magnetize case on my iPad. Now this is the funny part. No sooner had I hung up the phone and I look down to my ICD area and that is when I saw my magnetic name tag from work on my left side. I know better than to put it on my left side but in my hurried state, I put it on the wrong side. Mystery solved.

Bob Bivona said...

I've been having bi-monthly checks because my device is eight years old and the battery level is getting low. Last few days, the hi-lo alarm has been going off at 9:45am. I have an appointment in a couple of days but does anyone know how long can it go like this before the unit needs to be changed out? ..

Mended Heart Mom said...

It can go on for weeks, and maybe longer. My 19 year old son is on his 3rd pacemaker/defib., and while he was waiting for surgery his would go off at school. His devices never last more than 3 years because of all his scar tissue. Also, his device is in his stomach, due to bad veins.

Jim and Sim's Great Adventure said...

I have a St Jude device that was implanted in May of 2006. In 2012 The hospital said the battery was OK. In 2014 I had a minor stroke and as part of my examination they read the ICD, All was well. At that time I asked how I would know if the battery was sufficiently low and that the device required a swap with a new unit. I was assured that my device would emit a beeping tone as a low battery warning. Last month Feb 2018 I had my device read by a St. Jude technician. No indication of life at all. I may have been walking around with a dead device since sometime in 2014. Have yours "read" as often as you feel comfortable. After all, you may need that voltage to save your life.