defibrillator, device that delivers an electrical shock to the heart in order to stop certain forms of rapid heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias). The shock changes a fibrillation to an organized rhythm or changes a very rapid and ineffective cardiac rhythm to a slower, more effective one. In a typical hospital defibrillator, voltage stored by the defibrillator pushes electrical current through the chest to deliver a muscle-contracting jolt to the heart; the current is transmitted by means of electrodes or paddles placed on the chest. Automated external defibrillators are now available for use by persons with minimal medical training in emergencies when medical professionals are unavailable, and miniaturization has led to the development of the implanted internal defibrillator (also called an internal cardioverter). In the latter a microcomputer uses an electrode to monitor the heartbeat. Upon detecting a minor arrhythmia, it activates a built-in conventional pacemaker to restabilize the heart's rhythm. If that fails, it delivers a small defibrillating electrical shock to the heart. In an extreme case, it resorts to a far stronger shock to reset the heart rate.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.