The heart is an amazing organ, made even more so by the fact that it can malfunction only for a short time before escalating to a fatal event. It's an amazing organ but it's very complex, too.
In spite of its complexity, one device, commonly known as a pacemaker, can be implanted in the chest cavity where it can minister to a wide variety of ailments. Oftentimes, the area of the heart where the pacemaker is placed is vital but in other cases, the specific function of the pacemaker is what saves lives.
One form of this device specific to function is the pacemaker defibrillator, a device implanted into the chest where it monitors the rhythm of the heartbeat and shocks it back into rhythm when the beat is off. Other forms of pacemaker work with other aspects of the heart's function but the pacemaker defibrillator is all about the rhythm, kind of like a tiny but driven dance instructor who pops a big whip when a dance student loses the beat.
Certain medical conditions leave the heart at risk of going into fibrillation, a frenzied beating of the heart that puts it at odds with the regular rhythm of the pulse. The heart's muscle fibers contract erratically, causing blood to flow sporadically instead of steadily through the body. If left unchecked, fibrillation can be fatal.
Part of a pacemaker defibrillator, also called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), is an electrical impulse monitoring system. When the device detects the heart's natural electrical impulses have gone awry and fibrillation has begun, the pacemaker emits a tiny electrical charge that shocks the heart's electrical impulses back into a steady beat.
Two of the most distressing types of fibrillation are ventricular fibrillation, or VF, and ventricular tachycardia (VT). Ventricular fibrillation means the heart's muscle fibers are contracting without rhythm and with irregular timing. The heart may beat fast for a few beats, skip a beat or two, and then beat rhythmically again. Or it may do the opposite. Or any combination of the above. Defibrillation may last only a few seconds, be intermittent, or continue for a prolonged period of time.
Ventricular tachycardia represents a heart that is beating much too fast to sustain health. Blood supplies oxygen to every cell in the body and a regular, steady supply is required for optimum oxygenation. When the heart beats too fast, healthful oxygenation suffers.
Since either form of fibrillation can be fatal, the experience can be frightening, too. The patient may become panicked or unconscious if fibrillation lasts too long or the contractions are too strong.
The pacemaker defibrillator detects these irregularities in rhythm and sends electrical shocks until the heart is beating smoothly and steadily once again. The device works even when the patient is sleeping.
The heart is an amazing and complex organ, just as the pacemaker defibrillator is an amazing ad complex medical device. Anyone with an implanted pacemaker defibrillator needs to stay in contact with his or her medical provider because the device will help sustain health longer than would be expected without it but the heart is just one organ in an even more amazing and complex organism. All parts are interconnected and, when one part suffers, the whole suffers, too.