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How A Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillator Can Protect Your Life

How A Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillator Can Protect Your Life

Last Reviewed : 01/08/2021
How A Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillator Can Protect Your Life

A vest defibrillator or wearable cardioverter defibrillator (WCD) is a non-invasive alternative to an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). A defibrillator delivers an electric shock to the heart when it detects an abnormal heart rhythm. The electric shock will restore the heart to its normal rhythm.

Abnormal heart rhythm, also called as heart arrhythmia, which is when your heart beats too fast or too slowly, can cause potentially fatal complications. In extreme cases, heart arrhythmia can cause complications that lead to death. A wearable defibrillator is especially helpful in heart attack survivors.

How does a wearable cardioverter defibrillator work?

A vest defibrillator is worn externally and directly against the skin. It continuously monitors the heart rhythm and sounds an alarm whenever an abnormality is detected.

A clinical trial was done to establish if a wearable cardioverter defibrillator (WCD) helps in preventing sudden cardiac death among heart attack survivors. Though the results showed no statistically significant difference in reducing sudden cardiac death, the overall risk of early death was reduced among those who wore it as prescribed.

Sudden cardiac death, due to heart arrhythmia, is a common complication seen in patients that have recently suffered a heart attack. To prevent such fatal complications, it has been the practice for heart attack survivors to have a cardiac pacemaker, also known as an implanted cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), implanted.

But current guidelines stipulate that a cardiac pacemaker should not be implanted within 40 days after a heart attack and 90 days after vascular stent placement and cardiac bypass surgery.

Instead, the recommendation is for heart attack survivors or cardiac bypass surgery convalescents to wear vest defibrillators until the 40-90 day period is over.
 

Other circumstances where vest defibrillators are recommended and can potentially save lives are:

  • When waiting for heart transplantation, as an alternative to ICD implantation,
  • When a patient requires an ICD but refuses it,
  • Where implanting a cardiac pacemaker is not feasible due to comorbid conditions,
  • When an implanted pacemaker is infected and has to be removed for a new one to be implanted,
  • Before or immediately after percutaneous or surgical revascularization,
  • When a patient requires ICD implantation but their condition is too critical that an it would be dangerous or when the patient has less than one year of life expectancy.


The study we cited above included 2300 patients who had survived a heart attack. Two groups were created and separated into treatment and control groups. The treatment group used a vest defibrillator and recommended medications, whereas the control group took only medications.

The results of the study showed a 35% reduction in deaths from any cause within 90 days after their heart attack in the treatment group when compared to the control group.

However, the risk of sudden rhythmic death was the same in both groups. The three-month death rate for patients recovering from a heart attack saw a 5% reduction in the treatment group. Results also show that 4.9% of patients in the control group and 3.2% of patients in the treatment group died within 3 months of their heart attack.
 

Though an implantable defibrillator is required to prevent deaths in heart attack survivors, they are not recommended within 40-90 days after a heart attack. So to bridge this gap WCDs can be used to reduce the overall risk of death.

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