Some people have abnormally fast heartbeats, sometimes as fast as 400 beats per minute. A heartbeat this fast can be life-threatening. The solution is an implantable defibrillator. VOA's Carol Pearson has the stories of two people whose lives have been saved by devices implanted directly into their heart.
A recently published study found that while implantable cardioverter defibrillators, or ICDs, are able to improve survival rates, more long-term complications were seen among women and African-Americans than among males and white patients.
More patients with life-threatening heart conditions like Huggins' are getting this devide implanted to fix the problem, and it's saving their lives. But it's also coming with a surprising side effect—about one in five patients develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What does it feel like when the defibrillator implanted in your chest detects a sudden change in heartbeat, an arrhythmia, and delivers a high-voltage shock to return the heart to a normal pace?
“It’s like being punched in the chest, kicked by a horse, hit by a baseball bat – those are the metaphors people commonly use,” said Dr. Daniel Kramer, a fellow in cardiac electrophysiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “There’s nothing gentle about it.”
Misuse of a genetic test as well as an incorrect interpretation of the findings resulted in the misdiagnoses, which led to the boy’s brother being implanted with a defibrillator he didn’t need. The device has since unnecessarily shocked his heart twice, researchers said.
Defibrillators have undoubtedly saved the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. That is why insurers still typically pay for the devices and the surgical procedure to implant them, which can top $50,000 for each patient.
What makes many doctors and patients increasingly wary, though, is a string of highly publicized recalls in recent years, along with mounting evidence suggesting that a vast majority of people who get a defibrillator never need it.
Several types of devices and machinery may interfere with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pacemakers.
The electromagnetic waves generated by such devices can keep your ICD or pacemaker from functioning properly. Try to avoid them, or at least minimize your exposure to them.
The new findings fit into a larger pattern of misuse of defibrillators: paradoxically, previous research has also found that many people who need defibrillators do not get them. The reasons are not known, but may include the cost and also a reluctance by both doctors and patients to accept a surgically implanted device, especially if the patient is feeling fine and has no symptoms of the underlying problem.
Here is a sampling of the responses – so listen up, titans of the medical device industry and all those who implant these devices into our bodies...
Jackie Todd is 27 years old, with sly eyes, a laugh that seems to come from deep in her belly, and thick, dirty-blond hair that she dyes a fiery copper hue. She also has a small computer inside of her chest. It’s constantly collecting information; it’s a diary of dates, times, and events. In a sense, Jackie’s whole life is archived in a code that she can’t interpret. She jokes that she’s part cyborg, but it’s not entirely a gag: a $50,000 machine is keeping her alive. “This device will do everything it can to prevent my heart from stopping,” she says.
Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are used to detect dangerously fast heartbeats and give a lifesaving shock to correct the heart’s rhythm. A person with an ICD has the equivalent of a paramedic sitting on his shoulder, always watching and ready to give the heart “the paddles,” as seen on many hospital and emergency television shows.
For patients with chronic diseases masked by a healthy-looking exterior, diagnoses can be elusive, or unhelpful.
I can’t access the data generated by my implanted defibrillator. That’s absurd.