There are two main types of defibrillators. One is an implantable defibrillator, and the other one is an automated external defibrillator, also known as an AED. Although they are both classified as defibrillators, they are different in many ways. However, the basic concept of them is the same.
First and foremost, both devices are used to treat life-threatening arrhythmias. They both can detect when these serious heart beat irregularities are occurring. Once detected, the devices send a shock to the heart in order to restore it back to its natural rhythm.
An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) differs from an AED since its implanted inside the body. It's actually connected to the heart chambers. It has wires that have electrodes connected to them that attach to a person's lower heart chambers, known as ventricles. This device will monitor the rhythm of the person's heart and send low-energy electrical pulses to attempt to get the rhythm back to normal. In cases where the low-energy pulses aren't enough to restore the heart's normal beat, the ICD automatically switches to high-energy pulses. When the ventricles quiver as opposed to contracting, the ICD will send high-energy pulses as well. These impulses last only a fraction of a second; however, they're powerful enough that they're painful.
Generally, an ICD is used in adults and children who have life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias. The people who need to have the defibrillator had a ventricular arrhythmia in the past or survived a sudden cardiac arrest. The patient may have had a heart attack, long QT syndrome or Brugada syndrome. The person may have had a congenital heart disease or another condition that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
The actual device is battery powered and is inserted in a pouch underneath the skin of the abdomen or chest. Usually, it's right underneath the collarbone. It's similar in size to a pocket watch and has wires that go from the generator to areas of the heart. The device may be implanted through the blood vessels, so the person's chest won't need to be opened up. Some of these have pacemaker features that will detect smaller changes in the heart's rhythm. It's always working day and night. Some even have the ability to store memory of arrhythmic events and have other more sophisticated features.
Unlike the ICD, an automated external defibrillator doesn't connect inside the body. Instead, the electrodes are placed on the outside of the body. Whoever performs the defibrillation will position one of the pads on the unconscious person's body, right center of the person's chest just above the nipple. The other pad needs to be just below the other nipple on the left side of the ribcage. After the mechanism is on and the person positions the electrodes, the machine will take the reading and send out the appropriate pulses to restart the heart back to its natural rhythm. It's only used in emergency situations where the person suffered from a life-threatening arrhythmia, so it can't be used to regulate the rhythm if it's only slightly off.
It doesn't need to be used by a professional. It's meant to save lives even in the hands of an untrained person. However, taking the American Heart classes will definitely help a person to be able to save lives more effectively and to lessen a person's fear of doing so.
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