What Should You Avoid With a Defibrillator?

Living with a defibrillator doesn't have to be a daunting task. By understanding the different types of defibrillators available and the precautionary measures to take, you can feel empowered to safely support your heart health with these life-saving devices. 

Whether you're a new defibrillator user or you've had one for years, Carda Health is here to help you embark on an accessible journey toward better heart health.

What Is a Defibrillator?

A defibrillator is a life-saving device designed to restore a normal heartbeat by sending a shock of electricity to the heart. These devices are specifically designed for situations where the heartbeat has become irregular, which can happen following a cardiac event.

What Are the Types of Defibrillators?

Defibrillators come in several forms, each designed to suit different needs and circumstances. 

These include:

  • Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs): These are the defibrillators that you might find in public places like shopping centers and gyms. AEDs are designed for quick emergency use by anyone – even those without medical training – to provide immediate intervention during a cardiac event.
  • Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs): ICDs are surgically inserted into the body of individuals at high risk of cardiac events. ICDs monitor heart rhythms round-the-clock; if they detect a serious arrhythmia, they deliver a therapeutic shock to restore normal rhythm.
  • Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillators (WCDs): These are wearable devices that continuously monitor heart rhythms. Like the ICD, a WCD can also deliver a therapeutic shock if it detects a life-threatening heart rhythm. However, a WCD doesn't require surgery. 

How Does a Defibrillator Work?

A defibrillator administers an electric shock to the heart, which can reset the heart's rhythm. The shock is sent through electrodes attached to the chest or, in the case of an ICD, delivered directly to the heart. 

This shock momentarily stops the heart, allowing it to reset and restore its natural rhythm. It's important to remember that a defibrillator is a solution to manage the symptoms and effects of a cardiac event, not a cure for heart disease.

A defibrillator is used when the heart's natural rhythm becomes dangerously irregular or stops altogether. This may occur during a cardiac event, such as cardiac arrest. Swift defibrillation can significantly increase the chance of survival.

What Should You Avoid With a Defibrillator?

Once a defibrillator is in place, it's essential to understand the factors that could interfere with its operation.

Electronic Devices

While electronic devices are certainly not off-limits when using a defibrillator, it’s important to understand how these devices may affect a defibrillator and take steps to limit any potential disturbances. 

  • Cellphones and other wireless devices: While cellphones and other wireless devices do produce electromagnetic fields that could potentially interfere with a defibrillator, the risk is very low. In general, try to maintain a safe distance of about six inches between your cell and your defibrillator. 
  • Metal detectors: Metal detectors, such as those found in airports or court buildings, can potentially interfere with defibrillator function. Informing the security staff about your defibrillator will allow them to check you manually so that you can pass through security.
  • Electrical appliances: Everyday appliances such as microwaves, electric blankets, and even hair dryers produce a small electromagnetic field. However, the risk these pose to a defibrillator is minimal as long as you maintain a reasonable distance. As a rule of thumb, keep a foot distance between your defibrillator and the appliance.

Medical Procedures

Certain medical procedures can interfere with a defibrillator and should be approached with caution.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI scans generate a strong magnetic field and radiofrequency energy that can disrupt the functioning of a defibrillator. Therefore, it is critical to inform your healthcare provider about your defibrillator before undergoing any such procedure.
  • Lithotripsy: This is a procedure used to break up kidney stones using sound waves. It can potentially interfere with a defibrillator, so it's vital to discuss this with your healthcare provider.
  • Electrocautery: This procedure uses heat to stop bleeding during surgery and can potentially interfere with your defibrillator. As with any medical procedure, ensure the medical team is aware of your device.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy used for treating various forms of cancer can potentially interfere with the proper functioning of a defibrillator. It's crucial to inform the oncologist and the radiology team about your defibrillator before starting any treatment.

Environmental Factors

While rare, there are certain environmental factors that have the potential to affect a defibrillator's functioning. Maintaining awareness of these potential factors and avoiding exposure when possible can help keep your defibrillator running smoothly.

  • Strong magnetic fields: Industrial environments often involve strong magnetic fields that can interfere with a defibrillator. It's generally advisable to avoid such areas. In case of unavoidable exposure, maintaining a distance and limiting the duration can mitigate the risk.
  • High-voltage power lines: Being in close proximity to high-voltage power lines can potentially affect a defibrillator. A safe distance of at least 25 feet is generally recommended to reduce this risk.
  • Thunderstorms: Lightning can produce strong electromagnetic fields that could, theoretically, disrupt a defibrillator. While the chances of this happening are minimal, it's advised to stay indoors during a storm to be on the safe side.

Why Should You Avoid Interference With a Defibrillator?

A defibrillator is a critical device that works continuously to monitor heart rhythm and deliver therapeutic shocks when necessary. Interference from the above-mentioned sources could disrupt its functioning, which could prevent it from delivering life-saving therapy during a cardiac event.

Understanding these potential sources of interference and taking steps to mitigate them can help keep your defibrillator functioning optimally to support your heart health.

How Can You Safely Use a Defibrillator?

A defibrillator is a reliable, clinically-proven tool designed to manage cardiac events. However, its effectiveness can be enhanced by following certain guidelines and precautions.

Whether implanted or external, defibrillators should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Regular check-ups are necessary to ensure the device is working correctly. 

Precautions To Take Before Using a Defibrillator

Before starting to use a defibrillator, it’s important to consider the following precautionary measures:

  • Check for interference: Perform a simple check for interference to see if there are any changes in heart rhythm when you are near a device or in a particular environment. If you suspect interference, move away from the source, and the defibrillator should resume normal function.
  • Turn off electronic devices: While not always necessary, turning off electronic devices or keeping them at a safe distance can provide peace of mind, ensuring your defibrillator operates without any interference.
  • Inform medical professionals of the presence of a defibrillator: It's crucial to inform all healthcare providers about your defibrillator before any medical procedure. This can help them take the necessary precautions to avoid causing interference with the device.
  • Consider wearing a medical ID bracelet: A medical ID bracelet that indicates you have a defibrillator can be beneficial, especially in emergency situations. This can quickly inform any medical personnel about your condition and the presence of the defibrillator, allowing them to take the appropriate precautions during treatment.

Precautions To Take After Using a Defibrillator

Using a defibrillator, particularly if it has discharged, requires certain subsequent steps to ensure both your safety and the continued effectiveness of the device.

  • Checking the device for damage: After the discharge of a defibrillator, it's vital to inspect the device and the area around it for any visible damage. This is especially important if you have an external defibrillator. 
  • Reporting any issues to a medical professional: Regardless of the type of defibrillator, reporting the incident to your healthcare provider is a top priority after a discharge. They can perform a comprehensive evaluation of the device's status, ensure it's functioning correctly, and address any concerns you may have. 

How Do You Maintain a Defibrillator?

Maintaining a defibrillator primarily involves regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. They can ensure the device is functioning correctly and replace the battery or the entire device, if necessary. 

It's also crucial to lead a healthy lifestyle to reduce the chances of a cardiac event, including following a balanced diet, managing stress, and getting regular physical activity under the guidance of a professional such as a clinical exercise physiologist.

Also, you should generally avoid any physical impact to the area where the defibrillator is placed to prevent potential damage to the device. If you feel anything unusual related to your defibrillator, it's crucial to contact your healthcare provider immediately.

The Bottom Line

Living with a defibrillator involves having awareness, taking precautions, and attending regular follow-ups. With the right guidance and support, you can lead a full and active lifestyle while effectively managing your heart health. 

Remember, at Carda Health, our mission is to provide comprehensive support, education, and personalized virtual cardiac rehab. Our expert clinical physiologists are here to help you manage your cardiac and pulmonary health so you can focus on enjoying each moment with peace of mind and confidence.


Defibrillator: Types, Uses and Purpose | Cleveland Clinic

Heart Disease | cdc.gov

Heart Rhythms: What's Normal Versus Cause for Concern? | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Management of radiation oncology patients with a pacemaker or ICD: A new comprehensive practical guideline in The Netherlands | PMC

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