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Implanted Heart Device Prevents Death

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"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."

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