A defibrillator is a device that is used to restart the heart in the event of cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest, is the sudden and usually unexpected cessation of normal heart activity.
Defibrillators come in two main classes or categories. The internal defibrillator and the external defibrillator. These obviously speak for themselves, one being implanted in the body and the other used externally.
Implanted defibrillators are about the size of a mini-cassette and are placed normally above the heart in the chest cavity. They are fully automated, monitoring heart activity 24/7, and lay ready to deliver life-saving electric shocks to the heart in the event the carrier suffers sudden cardiac arrest.
External défibrillateur on the other hand, are normally portable (these days), being used in medical facilities, emergency medical service (EMS) vehicles and, more recently, in public gathering places, homes and offices.
Up until the mid 80’s defibrillators were large, somewhat cumbersome devices found only in a hospital or EMS setting. They had to be worked manually, meaning a trained operator had first to determine if defibrillation was appropriate for the victim’s symptoms, by checking for a pulse and running through a laundry list of other qualifying procedures.
Due to major advances in cardio technology and electrical component miniaturization, the modern defibrillator is but a shadow of its former self. Smaller (a modern external defibrillator is about the size of a baseball mitt), fully automated and portable, these devices can now be operated even by untrained hands.
The external defibrillator first monitors the patient’s vital signs to determine if defibrillation is necessary, before audiovisual prompts walk the rescuer through the necessary steps of the defibrillation process. These machines will even determine if CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is appropriate, and if so, guide one through the entire procedure.
Relatively recently home-use defibrillators were approved by the FDA, and could be had with an accompanying prescription from a qualifying doctor. But recent developments in the technology have seen the FDA approve a home use defibrillator that can be purchased without a prescription. The Philips home-use AED (automated external defibrillator) can now be bought over the counter.
Why would you need a defibrillator in your home, you might ask. Well, look at the statistics – sudden cardiac arrest claims more lives in the US annually than traffic accidents, house fires, hand guns, breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS … combined. This could explain why the portable defibrillator seems set to become a regular “household” item in line with other preventatives like fire extinguishers, seat belts, smoke alarms, crash helmets, etc.
Defibrillators will no doubt continue to evolve, but for now at least we have reached a welcomed milestone in their development. A place where the man in the street can have access to a medical tool that alone may save his life.
Cardiac arrest allows its victims less than ten minutes without defibrillation before death is a foregone conclusion. The modern defibrillator, with its automated, audiovisual aids, has the credentials to reverse that scenario by offering immediate onsite defibrillation. Defibrillation that can be administered by a family member, friend, co-worker, or even a bystander or passerby.
If you don’t yet own a defibrillator, it might be something to consider.