Internal Defibrillation: Where we Have Been and Where we Should be Going?



Internal cardioversion has been developed as an alternative technique for patients who are resistant to external DC cardioversion of atrial fibrillation (AF) and was found to be associated with higher success rates. It used initially high energies (200–300 J) delivered between an intracardiac catheter and a backplate. Subsequent studies have shown that it is possible to terminate with energies of 1 to 6 Joules, paroxysmal or induced AF in 90 percent of patients and persistent AF in 75 percent of patients, using biphasic shocks delivered between a right atrium-coronary sinus vectors. Consequently, internal atrial defibrillation can be performed under sedation only without the need for general anesthesia. Recently developed external defibrillators, capable of delivering biphasic shocks, have increased the success rates of external cardioversion and reduced the need for internal cardioversion. However, internal defibrillation is still useful in overweight or obese patients, in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma who are more difficult to defibrillate, and in patients with implanted devices which may be injured by high energy shocks. Low energy internal defibrillation has also proven to be safe and this has prompted the development of implantable devices for terminating AF. The first device used was the Metrix system, a stand-alone atrial defibrillator (without ventricular defibrillation) which was found to be safe and effective in selected groups of patients. Unfortunately, this device is no longer being marketed. Only double chamber defibrillators with pacing capabilities are presently available: the Medtronic GEM III AT, an updated version of the Jewel AF and the Guidant PRIZM AVT. These devices can be patient-activated or programmed to deliver automatically ounce atrial tachyarrhythmias are detected, therapies including pacing or/and shocks. Attempts to define the group of patients who might benefit from these devices are described but the respective role of atrial defibrillators versus other non-pharmacologic therapies for AF, such as surgery and radiofrequency catheter ablation, remains to be determined. Advantages and limitations or atrial defibrillators and approaches to reduce shock related discomfort which may be a concern in some patients, are reviewed. Studies have shown that despite shock discomfort, quality of life was improved in patients with atrial defibrillators and the need for repeated hospitalizations was reduced. The cost of these devices remains a concern for the treatment of a non-lethal arrhythmia. Attention that atrial defibrillators will receive from cardiologists and from the industry in the future, will depend of the long-term results of other non-pharmacological options and of the identification of the group of AF patients which will require restoration and maintenance of sinus rhythm. But there is no doubt that selected subsets of patients with AF could benefit from atrial defibrillation.


internal atrial defibrillation atrial defibrillators implantable devices cardioversion 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Cardiology, School of MedicineUniversity of MarseilleHopital NordFrance

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