Risk for sudden cardiac arrest is high in some arrhythmia patients

Contributing columnistsMarch 29, 2014 

The human heart has a natural electrical pulse that regulates its beat and rhythm. In some people, a disruption in this natural pulse may occur, causing a heart arrhythmia or irregular heart beat. Roughly one in four American adults have some type of irregularity to their heartbeat.

Some arrhythmias are harmless and require no treatment or monitoring. However, some are more serious and can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart suddenly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest can lead to death if not treated urgently. Recent estimates show that approximately 500,000 people in the United States are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

Cardiologists have used implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICD) to manage patient's heart arrhythmias, or irregular heart beats, for quite some time. ICDs administer shocks to keep the heart beating at its intended pace, and are an important tool for patients with arrhythmias that put them at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

A typical ICD uses wires, known as leads, which are placed into the heart itself. Electrodes then work within the right atrium and ventricle to keep the heart beating at a normal pace.

Devices like this allow physicians to help those at risk for sudden cardiac arrest before it happens, which will help save lives.

New technologies like subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillators (S-ICD) allow cardiologists to manage a patient's heart rhythm in a less invasive manner than before. Whereas traditional defibrillators require leads through the veins and into the heart, S-ICD is merely implanted just below the skin and leaves the heart and blood vessels untouched.

The S-ICD System has two main components: a pulse generator and an electrode. The electrode allows the system to sense the cardiac rhythm and provides a pathway for a shock if the rhythm is interrupted. The pulse generator, which powers the system, monitors the heart's activity and delivers the shock if needed. Both components are implanted just under the skin—the generator at the side of the chest, and the electrode beside the breastbone.

To date, more than 2,000 S-ICD devices have been implanted in patients around the world.

Dr. Sameh Lamiy and Dr. Jeff Schoen are electrophysiologists with KentuckyOne Health Cardiology AssociatesDr. Sameh Lamiy and Dr. Jeff Schoen are electrophysiologists with KentuckyOne Health Cardiology Associates

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