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when were defibrillators invented

When Were Defibrillators Invented? 

Heart disease has killed more people in the United States than any other chronic condition. More than a century ago, heart disease began emerging fiercely as a fatal ailment. 

People were living longer and, as they age, coronary heart disease began to be more common in the population. Throughout the 20th century, heart attacks took a significant number of lives. Scientists, researchers, doctors and public health experts devised strategies to improve the outcome of a heart disease diagnosis.

One of the most significant developments that would treat sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) victims was the invention and advancement of a life-saving device called a defibrillator. This technologically-advanced medical device has become a vital, essential tool for saving patients from this deadly disease. 

Defibrillators are found in hospitals, medical and health facilities, office buildings, airplanes, and even in homes for those who face a high risk of SCA. We hope to see them in much more abundance so many more lives can be saved.

Heart Disease Facts  

Heart disease is the leading natural cause of death in the United States today. Millions of people are in danger of developing heart disease today.  Heart disease can lead to heart attacks, which can then trigger ventricular fibrillation and SCA. SCA is responsible for half of all heart disease deaths.

Also, heart attacks can leave scar tissue that results many times in the formation of electrical short circuits and abnormalities in your heart rhythm. It’s all related and you must avoid the risk factors to keep your heart healthy. 

The following are some of the main risk factors we should all avoid that can cause heart disease. 

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of heart issues
  • Smoking
  • Illegal drug use
  • Poor diet
  • High cholesterol
  • Physical Inactivity

Coronary artery disease is a preventable and treatable condition that can have a great prognosis. In the early 20th century, as more people were being diagnosed with heart problems, doctors and health professionals began providing new guidelines to try and reverse the condition. 

Additionally, new types of treatments were developed throughout the first few decades of the 20th century, such as using catheters, studying images of the arteries, and detecting symptoms, including angina. Doctors also started seeing a link between diet and exercise and heart disease outcomes.

When Were Defibrillators Invented

Defibrillator Information  

The 20th century brought one of the top advancements in medical history, the invention and evolution of the defibrillator. A defibrillator is a medical device that uses electrical pulses to restart a heart or correct the rhythm. 

Today, there are different types of defibrillators used in hospitals, doctor’s offices and even in public places. These include AEDs, which are portable defibrillators, ICDs, which are surgically implanted defibrillators and WCDs, which are wearable defibrillator devices. 

Defibrillators can be used on people of all ages who experience a cardiac arrest. They have saved countless lives and helped people in many emergency medical situations.

When Was the Defibrillator Invented

The history of the defibrillator starts right around the time of the turn of the century in 1899. Two Swiss physiologists, Jean-Louis Prévost and Frédéric Batelli, discovered a link between using electrical pulses and ventricular fibrillation, a problem when the heart starts beating rapidly and irregularly. 

They demonstrated how tiny electrical shocks could induce fibrillation and larger pulses could correct it in an experiment with dogs. The team published their findings in a study the same year describing the effects of electrical shocks on the cardiovascular systems of small mammals.

The First Defibrillators 

The first defibrillator type devices started to appear a few decades later. By 1933, another team of researchers that included a cardiac physician named Dr. Albert Hyman and an electrical engineer, C. Henry Hyman, developed the first rudimentary defibrillator. 

Dr. Hyman was looking for a new way to treat heart patients outside of the current regiment of drug-based therapies. He came up with an alternative treatment to direct cardiac injections with his invention, a device called the Hyman Otor. 

The invention used a thin, hollow needle in the heart and passed an electrical device and shock through the needle during treatment. The device was popularized in magazine advertisements and received some publicity, but it ultimately was only tested on animals and never used in patients.

By 1930, Johns Hopkins electrical engineering professor William Kouwenhoven also had started investigating the role of electrical shocks on the heart. Kouwenhoven’s research led to more advancements in the science behind defibrillation and the first use of the practice on a patient in 1947. 

Dr. Claude Beck successfully used defibrillation to bring back a 14-year-old patient on the operating table undergoing surgery for a congenital defect. When the patient went into cardiac arrest, Beck used a defibrillator device he had built with his friend James Rand to restart the heart. 

Evolution of the External Defibrillator  

After the success of Dr. Beck, more defibrillator devices started being developed. In the middle of the 20th century, researchers aimed to create a device that could be used externally. By 1956, the first closed chest defibrillator was invented and successfully tested. 

Dr. Harry Zoll, a Harvard cardiologist, used an external defibrillator to bring back two of his patients. Prior to this, defibrillation had to be performed when the chest cavity was opened up for surgery using paddles with low voltage electrical shocks. The external method made it more convenient to restore the heart’s rhythm and used a higher voltage to deliver a shock to the chest.

The device also evolved with how it used electricity to deliver pulses to the heart. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, researchers and scientists examined the role of electricity and the best methods to deliver electrical shocks effectively to the cardiovascular system. 

Bernard Lown, a cardiologist, and Barouh Berkovits, an engineer, worked together to improve the direct current method of defibrillation. They aimed to make the process safer and more effective. 

Early defibrillators used AC, or alternating current, which could cause injury to the body. Lown pioneered a more effective way of using the technique with DC, or direct current. He also perfected the timing and process of using a defibrillator, improving patient outcomes significantly.

Portability and Convenience

Another great developmental stage of the AED was focused on making it more convenient. Doctors wanted a device that was more portable, so in the middle of the 20th century, more design experiments and research was conducted to make the device easier to use. 

In 1965, the first portable defibrillator was unveiled. It had been developed by Irish cardiologist Frank Pantridge. Dr. Pantridge worked with cardiac patients in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital. He understood the need for a portable device to help save patients who experienced cardiac events and needed immediate treatment before coming to the hospital. 

His first portable AED was fitted in Belfast ambulances and used a car battery to generate enough current to operate. Eventually, he made a device that was smaller and truly portable with help from developments in portable batteries.

Implantable Defibrillators 

Other researchers and scientists in the medical community focused on developing new, implantable devices that could help patients with chronic heart arrhythmia problems

The first ICD, or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, was introduced in 1980 by a team of physicians and researchers. Development for the ICD began in 1969 in Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital. In 1980, the first ICD was implanted successfully at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Early ICDs were placed into the chest cavity using a mesh electrode piece on the heart and placing a pulse generator into the abdomen. 


The first models of a portable defibrillator led to the development of the gold standard in these devices, the AED. This device was first created in 1978 and aimed to bring a simple, effective and fast treatment to cardiac patients in a variety of settings and situations. 

Today’s AEDs are designed to deliver treatment to patients suffering from tachycardia, which is a dangerously fast heart rate, and ventricular fibrillation, which is an abnormal heart rhythm. The AED is not designed to shock a heart that has completely stopped or to resuscitate someone who had a fatal heart attack. Instead, it’s designed to treat life-threatening episodes of arrhythmia, and must be administered within minutes of a victim’s collapse.

Widespread Use of AEDs

AEDs have evolved to make it easy for almost anyone to use and deliver life-saving treatment to a patient. In the past few years, AEDs are commonly seen in public settings in case there is an SCA emergency. 

Some states and localities require that AEDs are available in schools, gyms, doctor’s offices, public transportation stations and sports stadiums. Some cardiac patients may even store an AED at home if they are at risk of developing an arrhythmia. 

Modern AED models provide automatic voice directions to the user when delivering treatment. They also offer visual directions that are very easy to follow.. The bystander only has to follow a few simple directions to deliver the life-saving treatment. Once in place, the AED will automatically diagnose and treat the patient and deliver an electric pulse to the heart if it is needed.

Lifesaving Technology

Ever since its early days in the first part of the 20th century, the defibrillator has been helping cardiac patients live longer and survive life-threatening situations. Over the past century, this device has experienced many beneficial changes, making treatment safer, more effective and more convenient.

Today, it’s easy for almost anyone to use a defibrillator if there is an AED nearby. The scientific and medical research community continues to work towards more solutions and treatments for potentially fatal cardiac events. 

Our mission at AED USA is to spread awareness of AEDs, make them more available and accessible, and help AED owners with the management of their equipment. With the current COVID-19 crisis and the disease’s effect on the cardiovascular system and heart, these devices are even more essential. These improvements and developments have helped millions of people suffering from heart disease get a new lease on life.

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