Going HIGH TECH to help the heart

Our high-tech world may have its pros and cons, but one big advantage is it’s helping save lives.

The speed at which technology evolves can make your head spin. Our high-tech world may have its pros and cons, but one big advantage is it’s helping save lives. New advances are helping people with heart conditions, particularly those at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of about 1,000 people per day in the U.S. alone. Often confused with a heart attack, cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. If the person does not get help within minutes, he or she will die.

Heart valve and heart rhythm conditions are the most common causes of sudden cardiac arrest. Because those conditions affect so many people, scientists spend a lot of time working on new technologies to help these patients. Many people at risk for sudden cardiac arrest get an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, a small device implanted in the chest or abdomen that delivers electrical pulses when it senses irregular heartbeats.

These work well but can give off pulses when they are not needed, such as during physical activity. Pulses sent too often or at the wrong time can damage the heart or trigger an irregular heartbeat.

New technology is eliminating these dangerous risks. A new subcutaneous implantable cardioverter­defibrillator (S-ICD) system recently became available in the United States. It sounds like a mouthful, but it’s making it safer for people who need implantable defibrillators.

The new technology is far more sensitive than the traditional defibrillator. Instead of sensing missed beats, the S-ICD senses irregular heart rhythms. In addition, the traditional ICD requires the leads, or wires, to be implanted in the heart’s blood vessels; the S-ICD’s leads remain under the skin.

The S-ICD provides protection while leaving the heart and vascular system untouched. It eliminates the potential for damage to the blood vessels and eliminates potentially risky lead extraction procedures that are sometimes needed with traditional transvenous defibrillator systems.




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