How Do Defibrillators Work?

Defibrillators are life-saving medical devices designed to restore normal heart rhythm in cases of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions, causing it to quiver or "fibrillate" instead of beating effectively. Defibrillators work by delivering an electric shock to the heart, resetting its electrical activity and potentially allowing it to resume normal beating. Here's how defibrillators work:

1. Detection of Arrhythmia:

  • Defibrillators are equipped with sensors, typically adhesive pads with electrodes, that are placed on the patient's chest. These sensors continuously monitor the heart's electrical activity.
  • When a life-threatening arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT), is detected, the defibrillator is ready to administer a shock.

2. Charging the Capacitor:

  • Before delivering a shock, the defibrillator charges a high-capacity capacitor with electrical energy. This energy is measured in joules and is necessary to disrupt the abnormal heart rhythm.

3. Clearing the Patient:

  • Everyone present, including medical personnel and bystanders, must stand clear of the patient to avoid receiving a shock themselves.

4. Administering the Shock:

  • The defibrillator delivers a controlled, high-voltage electric shock through the electrodes on the patient's chest. This shock is intended to depolarize the entire heart muscle and momentarily stop all electrical activity.
  • The goal is to "reset" the heart, allowing the natural pacemaker (the sinoatrial node) to regain control and reestablish a normal heartbeat.

5. Monitoring the Response:

  • After the shock is administered, the defibrillator continues to monitor the patient's heart rhythm.
  • If the heart rhythm remains abnormal, additional shocks may be administered following appropriate intervals, as determined by the device's algorithms.

6. CPR and Advanced Care:

  • Defibrillation is most effective when followed by cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). CPR helps circulate oxygenated blood to vital organs until the heart can regain a sustainable rhythm.
  • For this reason, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) often provide voice prompts and instructions for initiating CPR.

7. Professional Medical Care:

  • After defibrillation, it's crucial for the patient to receive professional medical care as soon as possible. This includes a thorough evaluation of the underlying cause of the cardiac arrest and appropriate treatment.

Types of Defibrillators:

There are different types of defibrillators, including:

  1. Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs): These are user-friendly devices often found in public places, airports, schools, and other locations. They are designed for use by laypeople and provide voice prompts and instructions.
  2. Manual Defibrillators: Typically used by healthcare professionals, manual defibrillators allow medical personnel to have more control over the settings and adjustments.
  3. Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators (ICDs): These are small devices implanted under the skin, usually in the chest area, and continuously monitor the heart's rhythm. They can deliver shocks if a dangerous arrhythmia is detected.

Defibrillators are vital tools for saving lives in cases of sudden cardiac arrest, and their correct use can significantly increase the chances of a positive outcome. Immediate defibrillation, when combined with CPR and advanced medical care, can be a crucial part of the chain of survival for individuals experiencing cardiac emergencies.

CPR + First Aid Certification
Back to blog