The heart regulates its beating by using a carefully-tuned cascade of electrical-impulses that trigger each other to keep it in a steady rhythm, much like a pendulum clock. When these impulses get out of whack, like when you stick a fork in the toaster and subject your body to a 60Hz alternating current, the effect is the same as shaking said pendulum clock....everything kind of siezes up and and finds a new stable state, which is, unfortunately, a non-productive quivering.

A defibrillator is almost exactly like a reset switch for your heart. Applying a strong direct current zeros all unstable nerves, and allows the heart to start itself again from a base state.

When the heart is stopped completely, it is not a problem that defibrillation can solve. Instead, you need to do something like massage the heart.

A defibrillator is used to shock a heart out of arrhythmias, the most fatal of which is Ventricular Fibrillation (VF).

To use a defibrillator, put one paddle over the sternum, and the other over the right chest wall, under the axilla. Wait for the ECG reading from the machine and confirm that the heart is in VF (or some other serious arrhythmia). Get someone else to set the machine to whatever setting your local protocol indicates ...

Yell "Clear!", check that nobody is touching the patient, hold the paddles firmly against the patient's skin and press the button(s).

These days defribillators are so advanced that almost anyone can use them. These devices were once usable only to trained paramedics, but now in many parts of the world to use a defibrillator all that is required is that you take a basic CPR course and then a short (four hour) defibrillator course.

Automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) that cost under US$5000 are being outfitted at convenient locations in office buildings, airports and even elementary schools. These ones are battery operated and have voice directions to guide you. The major reason why the defibrillator is now available for public use is that the new devices check the status of the heart and won't let you shock the patient unless he or she is really fibrillating. After all, you really don't want people being shocked accidentally!

Manufacturers claim that use of external defibrillators can improve survival rates 30% in cases of sudden cardiac arrest.

There are also small implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs), which are surgically implanted in the heart and produce a shock when they detect fibrillation.

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