A LifeVest is a wearable defibrillator that can stop an abnormal heart rhythm without anyone’s help. People at risk of sudden cardiac arrest wear it while waiting for a more permanent solution. They wear it under their clothes and remove it only for bathing. This device has a high success rate for protecting people from dangerous heart rhythms.
The LifeVest™ is a personal defibrillator children and adults can wear if they’re at risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). It monitors your heart all the time. If a life-threatening arrhythmia starts, your LifeVest delivers a shock treatment to restore your heart to a normal rhythm.
A LifeVest cardiac device consists of a garment and a monitor you wear all the time except in the shower or bathtub. You wear the lightweight fabric vest under your clothes. Electrodes inside the device pick up your electrocardiogram (EKG). You wear the monitor around your waist (like a fanny pack) or from a shoulder strap. The monitor is about the size of a paperback book.
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The LifeVest monitor reads your electrocardiogram (EKG) continuously. If you have ventricular tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) or ventricular fibrillation (rapid, uncontrolled, ineffective heartbeat), the device sounds an alarm to verify that you’re not responsive.
If you’re conscious, you have less than one minute to respond to the alarms by pressing two buttons to stop the treatment.
If you don’t respond to the alarms, the device warns bystanders that you’re about to receive a shock. This warns them not to touch you so they avoid getting hurt.
If the arrhythmia continues and you still don’t respond, you’ll get a treatment shock through the garment electrodes. When you’re unconscious, you won’t feel the shock from the LifeVest cardiac device.
After the shock, if your heartbeat returns to normal, the alarms stop and the LifeVest returns to its normal monitoring mode.
However, if your heartbeat doesn’t return to normal and the arrhythmia continues, the treatment cycle repeats. You can get up to five treatment shocks.
An AED requires someone nearby to witness your arrhythmia event (such as ventricular fibrillation). They need to operate an AED and give you the treatment. In order to be effective, you need the shock within a few minutes after your abnormal heart rhythm happens. Your chances of survival drop about 10% for each minute after fibrillation starts, so a bystander must act quickly.
With the LifeVest, you don’t need a bystander to help you. The device continuously monitors your ECG. If a lethal arrhythmia happens, the LifeVest delivers a treatment shock typically within one minute. The LifeVest cardiac device protects you even when you’re alone or sleeping. An AED can’t.
The ICD and the LifeVest provide continuous protection. Your healthcare provider places an ICD under your skin and in your veins, but you wear the LifeVest cardiac device under your clothes. It needs to fit well to have contact with your skin.
The LifeVest can provide protection from sudden cardiac arrest for people who are waiting:
LifeVest is an option for people who:
You may need a LifeVest if your ejection fraction (how well your left ventricle can pump) is less than or equal to 35%. A normal ejection fraction ranges from 55% to 70%.
Tens of thousands of people are using LifeVest. The cardiac LifeVest received FDA approval in 2001.
People have worn a LifeVest for as long as about seven years. However, many people wear them for a few weeks or a few months.
Advantages of a LifeVest include:
Risks or disadvantages of a cardiac LifeVest include:
Researchers found the LifeVest had a 99% success rate for treating ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation occurrence. It usually took only one shock to correct an abnormal rhythm.
Contact your provider when:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you’re at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, you may get peace of mind from having a wearable defibrillator. It’s important to understand how it works and how to care for your LifeVest cardiac device. Your family also needs to understand how it works. If you have questions about your LifeVest, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider. They want you to be confident in knowing how to use it.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/19/2022.
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