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Bans Not Keeping Drivers With Implanted Defibrillators off the Road

TUESDAY, Sept. 3, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- One in three patients who have implanted devices for irregular heartbeats still drive, despite being banned from getting behind the wheel, a new Danish study finds.

It looked at more than 2,500 patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), which deliver an electric shock to correct potentially deadly abnormal heart rhythms.

Some ICD patients are healthy enough to drive a car, but many are given driving restrictions or bans by their doctor because they can black out or lose consciousness on the road.

Of those patients in the study, 92% had a valid driving license at the time of ICD implantation and 175 drivers (7%) were also licensed commercial drivers. More than 30% of ICD patients, including commercial drivers, resumed driving during the period they were banned from driving. Up to 60% said they weren't told of any driving restriction.

Patients who said they were unaware of driving restrictions were three times more likely to drive when banned than those who said they'd been informed of the restrictions, according to the study presented Tuesday at the European Society of Cardiology Congress (ESC) 2019, in Paris.

"It is the underlying heart condition, and not the presence of the ICD device itself, that is cause for concern, since it might cause an arrhythmia [heart rhythm disruption] and loss of consciousness, and thus potentially great harm to the patient or bystanders if occurring while the patient is behind the wheel," explained study author Dr. Jenny Bjerre, from Gentofte University Hospital in Denmark.

Men were 50% more likely to drive while banned than women, Patients aged 60 and older were 20% more likely to drive while banned than younger patients, and being the only driver in a household was associated with a 30% greater likelihood of driving while banned.

"We can only speculate on why these groups were more likely to be non-adherent," Bjerre said in a meeting news release. "Overall, we believe the necessity of a car in daily life is the most important factor. It is not hard to imagine an ICD patient might feel isolated, have trouble running errands, etc., during a period with driving restrictions, especially if they are older and living alone."

Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on ICDs.

SOURCE: European Society of Cardiology, news release, Sept. 3, 2019

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