We tend to think of shocking the heart as a last-ditch effort at restoring function, but researchers are showing that shocks can be used before the heart stops. The difference is they’re usuing acoustic shockwaves, not electric jolts. Wired News has the story:
Shimokawa and his colleagues aimed low-energy pressure waves at the chests of nine patients with end-stage coronary artery disease. During a typical session they hit 20 to 40 different areas of the heart with 200 pulses each. Blood flow increased and symptoms were alleviated in all patients, suggesting the growth of new blood vessels.
The researchers used a shock wave generator made especially for the heart. Using its fine adjustments, they could focus waves on a 2-square-millimeter area, and aim them virtually anywhere.
“Since we can focus at any point in the heart muscle with our machine, the patients can just lie on the table. They don’t need to move,” Shimokawa said.
Besides increasing the safety and comfort of the patients, this level of control allowed the researchers to treat just the parts of the heart where blockage occurred. Follow-up tests showed increased blood flow only in those areas, lending further weight to the conclusion that shock waves are a viable treatment.