Phantom shocks unmasked: clinical data and proposed mechanism of memory reactivation of past traumatic shocks in patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

Research paper by Sony S Jacob, Sidakpal S SS Panaich, Sandip K SK Zalawadiya, George G McKelvey, George G Abraham, Rajeev R Aravindhakshan, Samuel F SF Sears, Jamie B JB Conti, H Michael HM Marsh

Indexed on: 21 Dec '11Published on: 21 Dec '11Published in: Journal of Interventional Cardiac Electrophysiology


Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD), despite an unequivocal clinical benefit, are known to have a complex psychosocial impact on the patients. ICD shocks and the resultant psychobiological changes are known to contribute to increased levels of anxiety, depression, and post-shock stress symptoms in these patients. Phantom shock is a patient-reported perception of an ICD shock in the absence of any actual shock; however, its pathophysiological understanding is poor.A retrospective chart review of the University hospital ICD patients' database from June 2006 to April 2010 was conducted. A total of 38 patients with documented phantom shocks as cases and 76 age- and sex-matched patients with no phantom shocks as controls were selected from the database. Patient characteristics were analyzed for their potential association with the occurrence of phantom shocks.Phantom shock patients had higher prevalence of documented depression (31.6%), anxiety (23.7%), and cocaine use (42.1%). Additionally, patients who had previous ICD shock storms were more likely to have phantom shocks (39.5%; p = 0.001). More importantly, no phantom shocks were reported in patients who did not receive defibrillation threshold testing or past ICD shock storms.Phantom shocks are primarily observed in ICD patients who had prior exposure to traumatic device shocks and are more common in patients with a history of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. A pathophysiological mechanism is proposed as a guide to potential prevention.