What Conditions Can Be Treated with a Defibrillator?

What Conditions Can Be Treated with a Defibrillator?

Contrary to popular fiction, a defibrillator can’t bring your heart back to life once it’s flatlined or stopped beating completely. 

The device can, however, deliver an electric jolt that kicks your heart back into a more regular, life-saving rhythm if you’re experiencing a dangerous arrhythmia that may lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

Our team at Premier Cardiology Consultants explains the difference between these two scenarios and the conditions that might respond to an implantable defibrillator device (ICD).

What does a defibrillator do?

Rhythm refers to the rate at which your heart beats. Healthy hearts typically maintain a steady resting rate of 60-100 beats per minute. The pace of the beats is controlled by electrical impulses produced within the heart.

An arrhythmia occurs when these electrical impulses misfire and cause your heart to beat too slowly, too quickly, or too erratically for it to function normally.

Ventricular fibrillation (V-fib), for instance, is a dangerous type of arrhythmia that causes the lower chambers in your heart to quiver instead of beating strongly enough to pump blood. Unless normal rhythm is restored quickly, V-fib can lead to sudden collapse and death.

A defibrillator helps counteract V-fib and other potentially life-threatening arrhythmias by providing a controlled electrical impulse that’s designed to return your heart to a normal rhythm before it stops beating completely.

What is an implantable defibrillator?

External defibrillators are the type seen in emergency rooms and on popular television shows. They’re connected to an energy source and utilize pads that, once properly charged, are applied to the patient’s chest, resulting in an electrical impulse that travels through to the heart.

The FDA has also approved automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that offer computer-voiced instructions for personal and public use by individuals not necessarily trained as medical professionals.

While amazingly beneficial, external defibrillators are not always available to those experiencing arrhythmia. An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) fills that gap. Also FDA-approved, this small, battery-powered device is implanted just under the skin, typically in the upper chest, and continuously monitors your heart rhythm. 

Once programmed, the ICD automatically delivers electrical impulses as needed to counteract severe arrhythmia that might lead to a heart attack. ICDs deliver a much gentler “shock” than external devices. Most patients report feeling a thump in the chest and pain for a second or two when the device activates.

Many of the ICD devices available these days also include pacemakers, which are designed to control abnormal heart rhythms with lower energy pulses at a steady pace throughout the day and night. Think of an ICD as a portable emergency defibrillator that acts as a backup of sorts for the pacemaker.

When would I need an ICD?

Our Premier Cardiology specialists may recommend ICDs for individuals who are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest due to:

We may also advise an ICD for patients who have had a previous heart attack that caused significant damage to the heart muscle.

For outstanding cardiac care that’s focused on your needs, schedule an evaluation at one of our four New York locations today.   

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