The implantable cardioverter defibrillator may prolong survival and prevent sudden cardiac arrest in patients with ventricular arrhythmias. Whereas previous research focused on mortality, attention is now turning to the impact of the device on the recipient. We reviewed the literature on the effects of the implantable cardioverter defibrillator on recipients and their families; our aim was to consolidate our current understanding and guide further research in this area. We found a number of effects on which researchers agree. Primarily, recipients are happy to have the device and generally feel more confident. However, recipients experience many psychological reactions such as fear and anxiety that can be related to the unpredictable nature of the shocks. Recipients also are affected by intellectual changes. Both recipients and their families experience similar effects and use a range of coping mechanisms; the most effective is optimism. Only one nursing intervention has been investigated that directly addresses these effects. Areas that need more research are the effects of the implantable cardioverter defibrillator during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy; the impact of vigilance on recipients and their families; costs; and nursing interventions. More consistent, standardized quality-of-life measures are needed so that comparisons can be made between samples.