Fibrillation is one of the leading causes of death in the developed world. The condition is life threating because it causes the human heart to beat irregularly i.e. extremely quickly. This as a result can often cause the heart to not pump blood to all the main functioning organs. So, if the condition is left untreated the result is cardiac arrest which then soon leads to death. In order to treat the condition scientists have perfected a high voltage emitting device called a defibrillator which resets the heart’s natural rhythm in order to normalize it.
What conditions need to be met?
A defibrillator will not work to restore the heart in all situations, in order for it to work the patient needs to be unconscious and have no pulse. But if the patient is either conscious or has a pulse the high intensity shock can in fact take the person into cardiac arrest which is dangerous. This is why proper monitoring is required prior to delivering the shock.
How it works?
After a medical professional has determine that the victim requires an electric shock to restart the heart he or she would place electrodes or paddles on the victim’s chest. However, in females the defibrillator is never placed either directly near the breasts or on it, because the area in between the skin and the electrodes act as a barrier to all the current that is sent through the electrodes. So the thicker the layer of skin is in between the harder it is to jumpstart the heart. The professional will also apply gel on the skin in order to improve the direction of the electric pulse. Once the area is clear a direct shock of current is sent ideally through the chest cavity and into the heart.
Manual defibrillator machines require that the professional monitor the heart’s rhythm as well as adjust the shock’s intensity. However, automated defibrillator machines will automatically choose the level of shock required based on the heart’s reading. Automated machines are best suited for people who have no medical knowledge or how to use a machine.
The shock once it touches the heart will stop the beat for a few seconds in order to restart the natural pacemaker within it. Once the pacemaker starts the heart starts up normally and the rhythm is normal as well. This as a result will mean that blood starts to pump to all the vital organs first and then to all parts of the body.
Known side effects of defibrillation
The number of reports regarding side effects as a result of defibrillation use is rare but they will include mild burns on the epidermis or skin because it’s exposed directly to the pads or the paddles. There have been situations where despite a shock the abnormal heart rhythm continues but usually the change in the rhythm will not kill the victim. There is also an increased risk of blood clots and damage to various parts of the heart when a defibrillator is used. This is often because the shock’s intensity is set too high or the heart’s muscles are plagued by another illness which has weakened the muscles.
Types of defibrillators
There are four types of defibrillators i.e. automated, wearable, implanted and semi-automated.
- Automated defibrillators or AEDs: These are external and chunky defibrillator devices that will automatically adjust the shock’s intensity based on what the computer has computed to be correct. In most cases it takes some time for the AED to fully analyze the heart’s rhythm prior to determining the right shock intensity.
- Semi-automated: These will partially rely on the knowledge and experience of a medical professional who will set the shock’s intensity. Some of the latest ones have both a manual mode and automatic mode, so a user depending on his level of experience can switch if required.
- Wearable defibrillator: These are worn by patients who require an electric shock every now and then to keep their regular beat and rhythm working. These do not have to be surgically implanted.
Internal defibrillator: These are surgically implanted and will work a lot like a pacemaker, sending small yet frequent shocks to the heart’s muscles in order to regulate rate and beat.
Manu Alias is a medical professional and a first aid teacher. He specializes in teaching people how to use professional and domestic defibrillation units. In the past Mark has worked for the military as a first aid instructor.