Defibrillators are medical devices that send an electric pulse to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat in the event of an emergency. These devices are used to stop uneven heartbeats or to correct an arrhythmia.
Most hospitals and medical clinics employ the use of defibrillators on a routine basis because they strengthen an individual’s chance of survival. Studies show that when a person suffers a debilitating sudden cardiac arrest, their chances of survival decrease by as much as 10% for each minute that passes without a defibrillator or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
What is a defibrillator used for? Defibrillation is executed to correct serious heart arrhythmias including ventricular fibrillation or pulseless ventricular tachycardia. During an emergency, the device should be used as soon as the patient collapses, loses consciousness and stops breathing.
A defibrillator delivers a dose of electricity, called a counter-shock, to the heart. A large part of the heart muscle is depolarized, ending in dysrhythmia. At this point, the body’s natural heart rhythm is able to re-establish itself.
Early defibrillators were large and cumbersome and were used almost exclusively in ambulances and emergency rooms. However, the invention of the automated external defibrillator (AED) made it possible for the public to access and utilize these devices.
State laws vary quite a bit, but some require that AEDs be available in airplanes, police cars and at public places with large gatherings. While portable defibrillators are already available in many public spaces, accessibility is expanding every year.
There are five main types of defibrillators. While all units have the same basic purpose, they function a bit differently. Below is more information on the main types of defibrillators used today:
While there are other types of defibrillators on the market, the ones mentioned above are the most commonly used in the U.S. health system.
When you have an irregular heartbeat, a defibrillator may be needed to regulate your heart’s rhythm and prevent a serious cardiac event. Depending on the problem, a low or high energy shock may be needed.
For example, implantable cardioverter defibrillators can be programmed to deliver a low-energy pacing sensation or a higher-energy shock. If the device detects a minor problem, the ICD will attempt to regulate the issue using a painless low-energy pacing mechanism. You will most likely feel nothing.
For more serious rhythm issues, the ICD will use a high-energy shock. These shocks can be uncomfortable, but they only last for a few seconds.
Typically, one shock is all that is needed to regulate a heart rhythm problem. If the device detects a more severe problem, multiple shocks may be needed. Receiving multiple shocks in 24 hours is usually referred as to an electrical storm.
After you experience a multiple shock event, it is best to consult your doctor right away to perform more extensive tests on the health of your heart. Your doctor can also adjust your device’s settings to reduce the frequency or intensity of shocks if necessary.
You should also ensure your device is still working properly because some only work through one actual event.
A number of proper precautions, like the following, need to be taken when utilizing an automated external defibrillator:
Additionally, defibrillation should never be done on an individual who has a pulse or is exhibiting signs of alertness. If performed on an alert individual, the victim is not experiencing SCA and the defibrillation process can cause more harm than good. Today’s AEDs will not deliver a shock if the situation doesn’t warrant one. This is an important safety measure.
If you suspect your loved one is having a serious cardiac episode, check to see if he or she has a pulse. If the patient is not responding, call an ambulance and immediately begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Continue to provide CPR somebody attempts to locate an AED. Continue CPR and execute the AED until the medical response team arrives.
To prepare the patient for defibrillation, the paramedics will attach an electrocardiogram to the center of the chest. Gel or paste is then placed on the defibrillator paddles. Gel pads are sometimes placed on the chest as an alternative to placing gel on the paddles. The medical response team will then affirm the patient has no pulse before delivering the first shock.
Ideally, defibrillation should be performed within five minutes of the cardiac episode. A quick shock is effective at preventing further injuries or death because it allows the heart to produce a rhythm strong enough to create a pulse.
After the process is complete, the patient should be transferred to a hospital critical care unit for more tests.
While at the hospital, the patient’s vital signs, heart health and breathing levels are closely monitored. A doctor may perform more tests, such as a chest x-ray, to determine the damage to the heart.
Also, treatment for electrical burns may be necessary if the patient experienced any trauma during the defibrillation process.
If the cardiac episode caused respiratory problems, the patient may also need to be intubated until normal breathing resumes. Treatment options for the cardiac problem will be decided after all tests are completed.
There are many medications available to improve the function of the heart and regulate irregular heartbeats. A medical professional can help you decide the best medications to take in the future.