​Heart patients at risk of sudden cardiac death now have the option of a less invasive form of treatment.   Typically, they are permanently wired up to a defibrillator which is connected to the heart via a vein.   If it senses that the heart is malfunctioning, it sends out a jolt of electricity that sets things right again.

But doctors at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) have started to use a different kind of defibrillator with wires that go just under the skin and do not touch the heart or veins at all.

Dr Tan Boon Yew, a senior consultant in the department of cardiology, explained that with the usual defibrillator, "the heart is moving constantly, so the lead (of the defibrillator) in the heart is under a lot of stress".

This can cause the wires to eventually wear out and need replacing, which can be complicated. But removing the wire is much easier under the new procedure because it is just under the skin, said Dr Tan.

The new method is especially relevant for those on dialysis - whose veins are already under pressure - or patients under 40 who are more likely to have their wires wear out with time.

The centre has carried out the new procedure on five patients so far and between 15 and 20 patients a year are expected to use it in the future. This represents 10 per cent of those who need an internal defibrillator but are not suitable for the conventional treatment.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart starts beating very quickly and erratically. Around 1,800 such cases occur outside of hospitals each year and only 12 per cent of people who suffer it survive.

One of the first patients to undergo the treatment was retired chef Yeo Hock Seng, who was repeatedly admitted to hospital last year due to heart failure.   The 56-year-old was deemed to be at high risk of sudden cardiac arrest, but could not undergo the conventional treatment because one of his veins was blocked. He underwent the less invasive procedure in April.

"At first, my condition was not so good and I didn't have enough strength to walk long distances," he recalled. "I was always very tired - I would sleep 12 or 13 hours.   But now, things are better."

Source: The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.