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Are Zaps to the Heart Actually Harmful?

A study published in today's New England Journal of Medicine revealed that heart failure patients were five times more likely to die within four years of receiving a defibrillator zap to the heart to restore a normal rhythm than patients who didn't get a shock. And for patients who didn't need a shock but still received one--their risk of dying doubled. Progressive heart failure was the most common cause of death in patients whose hearts were shocked.

The president of the Heart Rhythm Society, N.A. Mark Estes, MD, pointed out that the devices used in the study are much older than current devices that use pacing methods to correct abnormal heart rhythms before administering a shock. There's no denying that defibrillators can have a significant effect on extending life. Another study published in the same issue of the journal concluded that after 30 months of follow-up, the use of defibrillators didn't result in adverse quality of life issues in patients. Yesterday David Nexon, senior executive vice president of AdvaMed issued a statement in response to the study. âEURoeIt is important to put the results of the study within the context of the significant overall patient benefit of implantable-cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs)," said Nexon. "First and foremost, ICDs are incredibly successful in achieving their primary purpose: saving lives. ICDs are 98 percent effective in treating dangerous ventricular arrhythmias that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. The SCD-HeFT data set used by the studyâEUR(TM)s authors showed that ICD therapy significantly reduced all-cause mortality by 23 percent compared to placebo, and ICDs were superior to drug therapy. Several other studies also have demonstrated the benefits of ICD therapy."

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