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Electric Current Leak Can Trigger Defibrillator Shock

Danish physicians urge environmental causes be investigated in unexpected shocks

WEDNESDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- An electric current leak that is not noticeable under ordinary circumstances can trigger a serious shock in someone who has an implanted cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), according to a letter in the March 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Anna Margrethe Thogersen, M.D., of Aalborg Hospital in Denmark, and colleagues reported an incident in which a patient with a newly implanted ICD for ventricular tachycardia received two serious shocks while showering and was readmitted to the hospital. An unneeded and inappropriate shock from an ICD can cause proarrhythmia and is a potentially lethal event, the authors note.

An inspection of the shower stall by an electrician uncovered a small current leak (3.5 to 4.0 mA) between the showerhead and the bathroom drain caused by faulty wiring in the wall, the authors explain. The physicians theorized that the device interpreted the small current leak as ventricular fibrillation and triggered the shocks.

"Inappropriate ICD shocks due to a current leak are not common, but we suspect that they may be underdiagnosed. Shocks due to abnormal ICD sensing should be investigated carefully for potential environmental causes. Safety guidelines for ICDs should address these risks in order to prevent potentially harmful incidents," the correspondents write.

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