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Learning About a Wearable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (WCD)

A person wearing a wearable cardioverter-defibrillator

What is it?

A wearable cardioverter-defibrillator (WCD) is a vest that has a defibrillator built into it. A defibrillator is a device that fixes serious changes in your heartbeat. The device is always checking your heart rate and rhythm. If it detects a life-threatening, rapid heart rhythm, it sends an electric shock to the heart. This can restore a normal rhythm. A WCD helps control abnormal heart rhythms.

You aren't likely to get a shock from the WCD, just as you aren't likely to use the air bag on a car. But it can save your life if it's needed.

Why is a WCD used?

You might get a WCD if you can't have an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) or while you are waiting to have one put in. A WCD may also be used if you might have a high risk of sudden cardiac death for a short time.

How is it used?

You may wear the WCD for about 2 to 6 weeks or longer.

You will be measured so your vest will be the right size. The vest is worn under your clothes. It has electrodes and wires that lie against your skin. You wear a monitor around your waist or on a strap over your shoulder.

Wear the WCD at all times except when you bathe or swim. You can do your normal activities while you wear it.

Your doctor will show you how the WCD works and how to take care of it. Be sure to pay attention to alert sounds and messages on the monitor. You need to follow the monitor's instructions exactly.

You'll also get instructions for what to do after a shock.

What does it feel like?

The vest may feel uncomfortable, especially at first when you're not used to it. The shock delivered by the defibrillator may be painful.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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