Implanted Heart Device Prevents Death
Over the last few years, several studies have shown the benefits of ICDs for patients who have had heart attacks.
In those studies, patients' survival rate improved dramatically with the ICD device -- "by as much as 50%," says Prystowsky.
The current study enrolled more than 1,200 people -- all with previous history of heart attack -- who randomly received either the ICD or drug therapy for abnormal heart rhythm. The study was conducted in 71 centers in the U.S. and Europe.
In analyzing the study's early results, reviewers found that the ICD group was "doing significantly better than the other group," Prystowsky tells WebMD. The reviewers' decision means further study of the device is unnecessary.
"These studies have all shown the enormous benefits of the ICD," he says.
However, doctors estimate that fewer than 20% of people who could benefit from ICDs actually receive them.
Without an ICD device, only 1 in 20 people who experience ventricular fibrillation -- an abnormal heart rhythm -- will receive emergency care in time to save their lives, says Prystowsky.
"Ejection fraction" -- that's the key term people need to know, he says. "If you've had a heart attack, find out what your "ejection fraction" number is. This is the measure that cardiologists' use to judge how well your heart is pumping. Ask a heart attack survivor what his cholesterol is, he'll know. Very often he doesn't know anything about ejection fraction."
A normal ejection fraction is at least 50%; anything less is trouble, he tells WebMD. Think of your heart as a pump. "If it squeezes out half, that's 50% of the blood going into the system. If the heart is ineffective as a pump because of damage from a heart attack -- and that damage is severe enough to cause significant reduction -- that person is at risk for sudden death."
That person needs to talk to a cardiologist about getting an ICD, he says.
"Ask your father what his ejection fraction is," Prystowsky says. "If it's 40% or under, he needs to know he's at potential risk for sudden death and should see his doctor. Ask about it."