"We don't know what starts ventricular fibrillation or why defibrillation electrically shocking the heart back into beating normally works to correct it," says Dr. Autumn Schumacher, a new faculty member in the MCG School of Nursing who recently won the American Heart Association's Martha N. Hill New Investigator Award for her research. "We do, however, need a better understanding of this abnormal rhythm and its subtle warning signals so that we can develop smarter bedside monitors."
While the condition is more common in people with undiagnosed heart problems, those who've had a previous heart attack and those with coronary artery disease, it also happens to seemingly healthy people when the body is under stress and secreting adrenaline, says Dr. Schumacher, a physiological and technological nursing professor.
Her current research focuses on what effect adrenaline has on the electrical patterns in the heart.
"The autonomic nervous system controls the heart rate by signaling our body to secrete adrenaline and increase our heart rate based on what we need the fight or flight reflex," she says.
Researchers already know that ventricular fibrillation occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions, the electrical signals that control the pumping of the heart become rapid and chaotic causing the lower chambers of the heart to quiver instead of contract. Those chambers can no longer pump blood to the rest of the body, which leads to sudden cardiac death without defibrillation a successful emergency shock to jump start the heart back into a regular beat.
Studying those electrical signals is what will lead to better medical equipment, Dr. Schumacher says.