Internal Defibrillators: What You Need To Know

Internal defibrillators are small battery powered units that deliver an electrical impulse to someone who is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest due to ventricular defibrillation. Before you or your loved one has a defibrillator implanted, you should learn about the device and what it does. Learning about the unit, the procedure, and what you can expect afterward will help alleviate anxiety.

An internal defibrillator constantly monitors an individual’s heart rate for any abnormalities. If the heart rate exceeds a certain number, an electrical therapy is administered to correct this problem. Studies show that when a person is experiencing cardiac arrest, defibrillation in the first several minutes increases the chances of survival.

Most defibrillators today also monitor for other heart conditions as well as cardiac arrest. If the heart is beating too slowly, the defibrillator acts as a pacemaker. If the heart is beating too fast, the defibrillator may give the heart a short burst of extra beats, which often corrects the problem before defibrillation. If it does not work, than the defibrillator gives the higher shock commonly associated with this device.

In the beginning uses of this therapy, internal defibrillators were put into the body through a thoracotomy and the defibrillator patches were applied to the epicardium or the pericardium. Now, most of the internal defibrillators are implanted transvenously into the left pectoral region. This is a similar placement to a pacemaker.

New technology has made internal defibrillators smaller and more easily implanted. Most weigh around 70 grams and are less than 13 mm thick. You may be able to feel the box and the leads under your skin, but as the wound heals, you shouldn’t experience any discomfort from it.

Many people feel worried about going home after having the device implanted. You should ask your nurses and doctors about the device and what to expect if you have questions. Knowing as much as you can about what to expect will help you feel more comfortable with the device.

If the defibrillator gives your heart an electrical impulse, you will likely feel pain that lasts for a few seconds. Those near you may notice you move suddenly, but they are completely safe from the electric impulse.

If you feel as though your heart is beating too fast or you are feeling dizzy, sit or lie down on the ground. Contact your doctor as soon as possible so that you can have the device and your heart checked out. If you feel unwell after a shock or if the device is giving multiple shocks, call 9-1-1 for an ambulance as it will be necessary to determine what is happening.

Internal defibrillators have been shown to help individuals who are at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest. New technology is making the devices safer and more efficient. If you or someone you love is having one implanted, ask your doctor to explain the device, the procedure, and what you can expect after the surgery.

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