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Life Preserver for the Heart: August 8, 2012

We’ve all seen them, those AEDs, or automated external defibrillators, used in an emergency to jump-start someone’s heart.  Now these life-saving devices are being worn in the clothing of patients with specific heart conditions.

It’s been called a life preserver for the heart.  Worn on the outside, it provides a lifeline for someone in cardiac arrest.

“It’s a very small device; it weighs less than two pounds.  It’s like a belt you are wearing.  It has an outside monitor with a battery pack, and it has a two-contact EKG contact. It’s not attached to your skin but close to the skin.  It senses your heart every beat,” says Lee Memorial Health System cardiologist Dr. Murali Muppala.

A wearable defibrillator monitors the heart’s activity and delivers an electrical shock if needed. It’s used by specific heart patients.

“Someone who has recent heart attack and had a stent put in.  In the first 30 days, the risk of sudden cardiac death goes up significantly.  If you anticipate they are going to have sudden cardiac death, those are the folks that might benefit from a wearable defibrillator,” says Dr. Muppala.

The wearable defibrillator is used in patients with severely limited heart function. It’s often a stopgap measure until it’s safe for someone to have a permanent, internal device implanted.

“Most of the times it’s 90 days. If their heart function gets better, that is more than 35 percent, the risk of sudden cardiac death goes down significantly.  If it doesn’t get better, we go ahead and implant the defibrillators,” says Dr. Muppala.

There’s no time limit on how long these devices can be worn. They’re sometimes used as a bridge to a heart transplant, providing a safety net around the clock.

“We don’t know when it’s going to hit you.  So the key thing is for you to wear it all the time,” says Dr. Muppala.