04 January 2018

Health Tech: Defibrillators

As healthcare professional you come into contact with many pieces of equipment but did you know that many of these devices have fascinating origins? In this series, we take a look at some of the technologies that have revolutionised health care. In this edition, we focus on Defibrillators.

A Brief History

Early Defibrillators were invented in the 1930s by electrical engineer William Kouwenhoven and could only provide defibrillation (the process of using a controlled electrical shock to restore a hearts natural rhythm) via direct contact with the heart via surgery. As time went on the process was improved to the point where the need for surgery was no longer required. Portable Defibrillators were invented by Northern Ireland physician and cardiologist Frank Pantridge.

Today, many public buildings have a Defibrillator on site in the event of someone suffering a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), and some campaigners are calling for their use to become as common as fire extinguishers. With statistics showing that up to 30,000 SCAs occur outside of a hospital environment (80% of these occur at home, 20% occur in public places) every year, the wider distribution of Defibrillators has saved the lives of many people.

When someone suffers from a cardiac arrest, their heart can fall into an erratic rhythm called fibrillation. This causes the heart to suddenly stop and prevents blood from being pumped around the body. Unless CPR and a defibrillator are used as soon as possible a cardiac arrest will result in death.

Simon says: What to do if someone suffers a cardiac arrest? 

Clinical Training Team Leader Simon Smart provides lifesaving advice.

Call for help - If someone is breathing erratically or not breathing at all the first thing you should do is call 999 for an ambulance.

Stay - Do not leave the person in order to find help.

Perform CPR - If you know CPR do it, if not the operator on the phone will talk you through the process. Get help from any passers-by and tell them to try and find a defibrillator.

Get someone to find a Defibrillator - If a Defibrillator is used and effective CPR is performed within 3-5 minutes of cardiac arrest, the chance of survival increases from 6% to 74%. Most shopping centres, train stations and other public buildings now have Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on the premises.  

Use the Defibrillator – If a Defibrillator is available, use it. Many public buildings now contain one. AEDs are very easy to use and are now designed so that anyone can use and most also give automated instructions to the user.

When it comes to saving someone who is suffering from a cardiac arrest the importance of speed and the use of defibrillators cannot be underestimated.

Did you know?

  • When someone has a cardiac arrest, every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces their chances of survival by 7-10%.
  • 12 people under the age of 35 die each week from sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Around 270 children die from sudden cardiac arrest suffered on school premises each year.