Defibrillation is an emergency treatment to bring the actions of the heart muscle back into coordination.
Atrial fibrillation occurs when the upper chambers of the heart do not function in coordination with the lower chambers of the heart. Because full coordination is critical to efficiently move oxygenated blood to your tissues, treating atrial fibrillation is critical to bringing the heart back into full coordination. Those who suffer from diagnosed atrial fibrillation can get relief from medications or from regular doses of electricity to the heart muscle, such as from a pacemaker. However, in a heart related emergency, access to emergency defibrillation can save tissue that may be at risk of damage or death because oxygenated blood is not moving to those tissues.
When is Defibrillation Used?
In the event of a heart attack or heart failure, defibrillation can bring a stopped heart back on line. It is critical to note that emergency defibrillation should not be used if a person is:
- Talking, even if they make no sense
- Has a pulse
- Has a pacemaker
CPR can be used to stimulate a heart that has stopped. However, bringing a failed heart back into a beating pattern may not be possible just with CPR. That being said, CPR can turn a stopped heart into a heart that is beating in fibrillation. Even in fibrillation, the heart is moving some blood and may be the difference between tissue death and a temporary shortage of oxygen.
How Does the Process Work?
A heart in fibrillation is not working efficiently enough to move blood effectively. To defibrillate a heart that is not functioning well enough to produce a recognizable pulse, defibrillating paddles are placed on either side of the heart. Caregivers must step back to avoid grounding the person in heart failure; electricity needs to be run through the chest, not through the body into the person touching them.
There may be an emergency defibrillator on site. However, if you don't know what you're doing, you can do a great deal of damage to the heart of the person you're trying to save. Paramedics will be stocked with the right tools and training to defibrillate the heart. If you know CPR, start it and keep going until the paramedics arrive. Many offices may have given training to specific staff about using emergency defibs placed throughout the office. It’s good to know who these people are to ensure that no additional damage is ever done.
Difference Between Defibrillation and Cardioversion
The fundamental difference between defibrillation and cardioversion is that defibrillation is a jolt of electricity to start a failed or fibrillating heart beating in a normal rhythm. Cardioversion can be delivered via medication or via a one-time shock at your cardiologist's office. Such a shock, delivered to a beating heart, can be enough to address improper muscular action in the top chambers of the heart.
While the symptoms of a heart attack are well known, the conditions that lead to the need for cardioversion are slightly different. You may have a rapid heartbeat that you can't justify or bring down with rest or medications. You may find yourself short of breath. Finally, people struggling with atrial fibrillation may be constantly exhausted.