A Shock to the Heart: The 5 Types of Defibrillator Explained


You’re walking along the street when you come across someone in cardiac arrest. What do you do?

Do you call 911 or wait for someone to come help?

The right answer is to perform CPR.

Ideally, you want to start within two minutes—any longer and there’ll be a great chance of brain injury due to the lack of oxygenated blood to the brain. 

Aside from doing CPR, which pumps blood to the organs, it’s important to restart the heart with a defibrillator. These medical devices are capable of shocking the heart back to its normal rhythm. 

As it turns out, there’s more than one type of defibrillator. They all work in different ways too. Which one would be best for this type of situation?

Interested in learning about the different types? If so, be sure to read on! 

The Importance of Using Defibrillators

Defibrillators are one of the most effective tools that you can use to save someone’s life. How do they work?

These devices are capable of sending an electrical shock to the heart, which helps to restore a normal rhythm. Combined with CPR, it can bring an individual’s survival rate up to 75%.

Without a defibrillator, their survival rate decreases by 10% every minute.

5 Different Types of Defibrillators That Can Save Your Life 

There are five main types of defibrillators. Let’s take a look at how they’re different from one another.

1. Automated External Defibrillators (AED)

AEDs were invented in the mid-1960s by cardiologist Frank Pantridge. Portable defibrillators, they’re capable of diagnosing and treating life-threatening arrhythmias. 

While sophisticated, they are very easy to use. In fact, they’re designed so that even an untrained bystander can operate them with no problems.

The first step is to turn on the device. From there, you attach the AED pads to the person’s bare chest. Once you’ve made sure that no one is touching the individual, press the “analyze” button.

The computer will analyze their condition and let you know if a shock is necessary. In cases where it is, you’ll want to press the “shock” button.

Afterward, all that’s left is to perform CPR until the medical response team arrives.

2. Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs)

An ICD is a battery-powered device that can detect and fix abnormal heart rhythms. Unlike AEDs, they’re surgically implanted inside the body—an inch below the collar bone.

Implantable defibrillators consist of three parts: a pulse generator, a built-in pacemaker, and electrode-tipped wires, the last of which runs through veins to the heart.

If the device detects an abnormal heart rate, it will send out an electrical shock to restore it to normal. It’s worth noting, however, that they do not prevent abnormal heart rhythms from occurring.

Generally speaking, ICDs are surgically put in those who have a known medical condition that puts them at risk of cardiac arrest.

According to the Journal of Cardiac Failure, ICDs decrease the risk of sudden death by 60%.

3. Advanced Life Support Units 

Advanced life support (ALS) units are typically used in the healthcare setting. For instance, they’re common in ambulances and hospitals.

Ultimately, these devices allow the medical team to monitor a person’s heart rhythm. If necessary, they’ll be able to provide the electrical shock.

Most ALS units also come with an AED function. This mode uses a computer to make shock recommendations based on the individual’s condition.

Other common features include the abilities to monitor oxygen, carbon dioxide, blood pressure, and temperature. Some units also come with a heart attack alert system.

While some models use paddles, electrodes are typically preferred as they’re much safer for the rescuer.

Not only that, but the shock is delivered more evenly, which makes it more effective.

4. Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillators

A wearable cardioverter defibrillator (WCD) is a medical device that’s worn by those who are at high risk for cardiac arrest.

For instance, they’re often prescribed for those who recently had a heart attack or bypass surgery. Those with congestive heart failure may also require the device.

Non-invasive, WCDs contain two different components—a monitor and a vest, the latter of which detects and treats abnormal heart rhythms. An individual wears the vest under clothing while the monitor goes around the waist. 

Worn properly, the WCD will continuously monitor an individual’s heart. It will deliver an electric shock every time it detects a life-threatening rhythm.

Highly effective, it has a first shock success rate of 98%.

5. Manual External Defibrillators

Manual external defibrillators are much more advanced compared to the other ones that we’ve mentioned.

They are typically used in a hospital setting by capable hands such as EMTs, paramedics, or physicians.

Another thing that sets them apart is that they are used in conjunction with electrocardiograms. These tests record the electrical activity of the heart, which is helpful for diagnosing and screening heart diseases.

Once the health care provider diagnoses the heart rhythm, they will manually determine the voltage necessary for the shock.

They will also have to determine the timing of the shock, which is delivered through external paddles.

A Defibrillator Can Save Someone’s Life

As you can see, all of these defibrillators work in different ways. They have one thing in common, though—they’re all capable of saving lives. 

Why wait for an ambulance when you can start the life-saving procedure yourself? Remember, seconds count when it comes to unattended heart attacks!

Interested in ordering your own defibrillator? Feel free to contact us for more details!