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Feb 18, 2016

Lightweight Vest Protects Children with Abnormal Heart Rhythm

The FDA expands the use of a lifesaving vest to children at risk for sudden cardiac death.

Thanks to advances in technology and research, the FDA recently approved a lifesaving vest for children with an abnormal heart rhythm called arrhythmia.

First approved for adults in 2001, the LifeVest is a lightweight garment that monitors heart rhythm using electrodes. In the event of a life-threatening abnormal heart beat, the vest automatically delivers a shock to restore normal heart rhythm.

The LifeVest was designed to treat patients (usually temporarily) at increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. Although sudden cardiac arrest is rare, patients with arrhythmias are at increased risk for this life-threatening condition. If not treated within minutes, sudden cardiac arrest can be deadly.

Fortunately, there many types of defibrillators that use electric shock to restore normal heart rhythm after sudden cardiac arrest. Automatic external defibrillators or AEDs are portable devices that can be used to treat a patient experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. AEDs can be used by mostly anyone and are typically kept in public places in the event of emergency.

Alternatively, implantable cardioverter defibrillators, often referred to as ICDs, are devices that can be placed under the skin to correct abnormal heart rhythms. ICDs are typically used to help prevent sudden cardiac arrest in patients at increased risk for this condition.

The problem is that most heart devices are tested primarily in adults. Not all children are eligible for preventive treatments. For example, children may have other medical conditions that make ICDs too risky. Parents may also decide against ICDs or other invasive treatments due to personal preference.

For this reason, researchers developed the LifeVest, which can prevent sudden cardiac death without any risky procedures. Manufactured by ZOLL Medical Corporation, the vest can be worn underneath clothing and helps correct any abnormal heart rhythms. Weighing less than two pounds, the LifeVest is ideal for children at risk of sudden cardiac death who don’t qualify for or decide against implantable defibrillators.

According to data from published studies, the LifeVest has no serious safety concerns. The FDA advises that children using the LifeVest weigh at least 41 pounds and have at least a 26-inch chest. Experts are thrilled with the recent approval, as the LifeVest provides a new treatment option for children at increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is an arrhythmia?
  • An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm that causes the heart to beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. There are many types of arrhythmias, some of which are harmless. However, treatment may be required depending on the type and severity of arrhythmia a patient has.

  • What is an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)?
  • An ICD is a device that uses electrical pulses or shocks to help patients with an irregular heartbeat maintain normal heart rhythm. Upon detecting an abnormal heart rhythm, ICDs send shocks to the heart to help restore normal rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac death.

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