Health Team

Implanted Defibrillators Can Need New Leads When They Age

Posted May 7, 2007

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— There is a warning for people with implantable defibrillators to help control their hearts — some of the devices are breaking down.

Defibrillators placed inside patients’ chests have helped thousands of people with heart problems live longer. The units monitor the hearts and give a shock to restore regular rhythm if they detect something amiss.

However, a new study from the American Heart Association found the leads that connect the defibrillator to the heart and deliver the life-saving electricity can break down over time.

“The incidence of lead failures was quite high, and I think they may be higher than many of us have anticipated,” said Dr. Jonathan Steinberg of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.

With an implantable defibrillator, a tiny battery pack is implanted in the chest and powers the two electric leads to the heart.

The study indicated that the older the leads, the more likely a malfunction. When researchers looked at patients with 10-year-old leads, they found one out of five had become defective.

The good news is that a simple, non-invasive diagnostic test can detect a defect. What’s more, Steinberg said that newer devices come with remote units that can alert a patient of a problem.

If the leads are bad, replacing them requires surgery, which has its own risks. In most cases, though, the reward of a defibrillator that works when you need it outweighs the risk.

“The bottom line is, defibrillators save lives,” Steinberg said.

Last year, several manufacturers of implantable defibrillators issued recalls due to possible defects. Some newer devices include remote monitoring so doctors can make sure they are working without the patient’s ever leaving home.


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