Defibrillation | Heart and Vascular


Our heart experts use defibrillation to restore a normal heart rhythm or restart a stopped heart. We specialize in implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) to prevent serious consequences of certain arrhythmias.

Medically reviewed by M. Bilal Munir, M.D. on Sep. 05, 2023.

An AED machine mounted on a hospital wall

The Latest in Defibrillation Treatments

Defibrillation uses a device to send a safe electrical current to your heart to restore a healthy heartbeat. You may need defibrillation, such as an implantable device, if you have a history of ventricular arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). You may also need it if you have heart failure with low heart pumping, which can make you vulnerable to developing ventricular arrhythmias. Defibrillation can restart a heart that stops beating during cardiac arrest.

Defibrillation is one of many life-saving heart treatments available at the UC Davis Heart and Vascular Center. We get your heart back in proper rhythm and provide advanced care to lower your risk of cardiac arrest.

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Types of Defibrillation

There are different defibrillation methods. The type of defibrillation you need depends on your specific heart event.

Electrical Cardioversion

Emergency care doctors, paramedics and other providers use electrical cardioversion to restart a stopped heart or get an irregular heartbeat into a healthy rhythm. Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that you see in public places deliver electrical cardioversion.

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

An ICD is a small implantable device that sends electrical shocks to your heart when it detects an irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest. ICDs do not always need to deliver an electrical shock to bring your heart to normal rhythm. Occasionally they can speed up the heart rate faster than the arrhythmia and, in this way, can also restore normal rhythm. Our heart electrophysiologists are experts at surgically placing these devices through small incisions.

Wearable Cardioverter Defibrillator (WCD)

You wear this defibrillator vest underneath your shirt. Sensors in the vest can detect heart changes and send an electric shock to your heart. You may have to wear a WCD to prevent cardiac arrest while waiting to get an ICD or other treatment.

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Defibrillation: What to Expect

If you’re receiving a planned defibrillation treatment for arrhythmia, follow your healthcare provider’s pre-surgery instructions. In an emergency, there isn’t time to prepare for defibrillation.

  • Close-up of a male receiving CPR chest compressions

    Before Defibrillation

    If you experience cardiac arrest, someone may perform CPR until defibrillation takes place. Before sending the electric shock through the defibrillator, make sure that no one is touching the person receiving it.

  • Close-up of a doctor holding defibrillation paddles

    During Defibrillation

    The defibrillator device sends an electrical charge to paddles or pads placed on your chest. Your provider applies a gel substance to your chest first to prevent electrical burns.

  • Female doctor listening to a female patient’s heart with a stethoscope

    After Defibrillation

    You may need another electrical shock, more CPR or medications if your heart doesn’t restart. Our heart experts will determine the next treatment steps to protect your health after defibrillation.

Home Care

It may take months or years to recover from defibrillation for cardiac arrest. Everyone’s experience is different. For the best outcomes, be sure to follow your provider’s instructions.

Take Your Medications

Take medications for arrhythmias or other heart conditions as prescribed by your provider.

Participate in Therapy

Some people benefit from physical therapy or occupational therapy to regain strength and stamina. Your provider may also recommend cardiac rehab.

Don’t Overdo It

You may feel more tired than usual during your recovery. Give your heart and body time to heal.


When to Contact Your Provider

Call your provider if you have signs of an irregular heart rhythm, such as a racing or fluttering heart, chest pain or dizziness.

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