Shocking findings

Implanted defibrillators that jolt erratic hearts back into rhythm reduce the occurrence of sudden death by almost a third among people who had previous heart attacks and continue to have impaired heart function.

“The magnitude of the effect is larger than that of any current drug therapy,” says lead researcher Arthur J. Moss of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center. He and his colleagues followed 1,202 patients for an average of 2 years after they had an initial heart attack. Of that group, 742 had a small defibrillator implanted in their chests after their heart attack and 490 went without. Both groups also received conventional drug therapy for their heart disease during the study.

Moss and his colleagues report their findings in the March 21 New England Journal of Medicine.

Over the 2 years, 14 percent of the people with defibrillators died, compared with almost 20 percent of the group without the devices.

“In patients with established heart disease, at least half of deaths are due to sudden, abrupt rhythm disorders that prevent the heart from pumping properly,” notes Moss. “Now we have a device that can significantly reduce sudden death.”

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