Many people have seen a TV show where doctors are rushing around trying to save a person’s life and one will shout, “we need to use a defibrillator!” But some people watching the show wonder, just what is a defibrillator?
Simply put, a defibrillator is a machine used to shock a person’s heart to restore its normal rhythmic patterns. The heart has a set way that it fires cells, but sometimes that rhythm is disturbed and will begin to have an erratic rhythm. This is called fibrillation. When the heart is fibrillating it cannot function properly and provide your brain with the oxygen it needs. The common name for this is sudden cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association estimates that every day around 700 people die from sudden cardiac arrest. There is a difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack. A heat attack is when the heart’s arteries are actually blocked, so the cells’ passage from the heart to the rest of the body is limited.
The best chance a victim has of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest is if a defibrillator is used. Essentially, the defibrillator provides a shock that stops the heart so it can naturally restore itself back to its normal rhythm. Typically, a defibrillator needs to be used within the first 3-5 minutes of the cardiac arrest; any longer and the chances of survival drop by 50%. Each minute without defibrillation lowers the chance around another 10%.
One detail to the question, “what is a defibrillator,” is that there are many different types of defibrillators. Some of the most common are external defibrillators. Those are the kind you see on TV with the paddles that are held to the victim’s chest. Similar to those are automated external defibrillators that are seen all over the place in gyms, schools, and other public facilities. The difference is that the kind in hospitals are made so that the kind of shock is done manually while an automated one reads the heart rate and decides for the user what kind of shock is needed. Another kind, that is becoming more common are implantable defibrillators. These remain implanted in a person’s chest and continually regulate to make sure the wearer has a steady heart rate. All these different types of defibrillators are playing a crucial role in saving people’s lives from sudden cardiac arrest.