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What You Should Know About Defibrillators

What You Should Know About Defibrillators

Defibrillators come in a variety of styles and types. Yours may be small enough to fit in your chest or smart enough to give you explicit instructions about when and how to use it.

All defibrillators, however, are designed to do just one thing — restore a normal life-saving rhythm to a heart that’s beating abnormally.

The specialty team at Premier Cardiology Consultants in New York shares information about how defibrillators work, why they’re used, and what their limitations are.

How does a defibrillator work?

Arrhythmia occurs when the heart muscle is beating so fast (ventricular tachycardia), so slowly (bradycardia), or so irregularly (ventricular fibrillation) that your heart is unable to fill with blood or pump it to the rest of your body.

Should the irregular beat continue unchecked, it can cause damage to the heart muscle that may result in chronic heart failure, stroke, or sudden cardiac arrest and death.

A defibrillator is a medical device that supplies a measured electrical pulse to the heart muscle that essentially shocks it back into a normal rhythm.

Types of defibrillators include a surgically implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) and the automated external defibrillator (AED).

The external defibrillators available in hospital emergency rooms are designed for professional use. There’s a type of computerized AED, however, that the FDA cleared for home use without a prescription in 2004.

These lightweight and easy-to-use devices have since become a standard addition to first aid facilities in community gathering places such as shopping malls, various work environments, and on many passenger planes.

How does a home AED work?

The home AED provides step-by-step instructions via voice prompts regarding use of the device, including how to check for breathing and a pulse and where on the chest to place self-adhesive electrodes.

The device then measures the person’s heart rate and rhythm, determines whether a shock is necessary, and alerts you to stand back before it delivers the electrical pulse.

A home-use AED controls the level and timing of the electrical pulse and won’t deliver a shock if the readings don’t indicate it’s necessary.

Note that these devices can’t restart a heart that’s stopped or speed up a slow heartbeat. They can correct ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation.

Training is recommended. However, in the case of a sudden cardiac emergency, even an inexperienced bystander can use an AED to help preserve someone’s life until emergency medical help arrives.

Why would I need an implantable cardioverter defibrillator?

ICDs are small battery-powered devices surgically implanted just under the skin of the chest or (more rarely) within the chest cavity behind the breastbone. Wire leads run from the body of the device to your heart muscle.

The ICD continuously monitors your heartbeat and delivers an electrical pulse if it senses a dangerously abnormal rhythm. Some types of ICDs are combined with a pacemaker that can help restore a normal pace to an otherwise slowly beating heart.

Your specialist at Premier Cardiology Consultants may recommend an ICD for chronic conditions that interfere with your heart’s ability to beat normally, including:

Your cardiologist may also recommend an ICD if you’ve had a previous heart attack that caused extensive damage to your heart muscle.

Although most individuals with ICDs can live a relatively active and comfortable life, there are some precautions regarding daily routines and ICD function.

Your specialist at Premier Cardiology Consultants discusses these limitations in detail before and after your procedure, but most are easily managed.

You should, for instance, take care to keep cell phones at least six inches away from the device and may need clearance for certain dental and surgical procedures.

For more information about defibrillators or any of the many cardiac services we provideschedule a visit at Premier Cardiology Consultants today.

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