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Spring-Summer 2002
Vol. 64, No. 3

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Some cardiac patients may be more likely to receive an implantable, high-tech device to closely monitor their heart rhythm, thanks to a Medical Center-led study indicating that preventive use of the devices can significantly increase the survival rate for many patients.

The study led by Arthur Moss, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology, shows that heart attack survivors who had the device - known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD - were 31 percent less likely to die from their heart disease than similar patients treated with the optimal standard therapy.

The research is the first to show the preventive value of the devices and the first to show their broad potential benefit. Results of the four-year study were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

About the size of a pager, an ICD is surgically implanted in the chest. When it detects irregular and potentially fatal heartbeats, it shocks the heart back into a normal rhythm.

The device works internally in the same way as an external defibrillator: delivering an electrical shock to the heart to restore its normal function.

"It's like having your own personal coronary care unit," Moss says.

Introduced about 20 years ago, ICDs had been prescribed only for a small group of patients who had survived a cardiac arrest. They became widely known last summer after Vice President Dick Cheney had one implanted.

The study enrolled 1,232 patients, but the enrollment criteria would apply to 3 to 4 million Americans with heart disease today and about 400,000 new patients annually, Moss estimates.

The research team recommends the device be used as standard, preventive therapy in patients with heart failure after a heart attack.

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