The warnings are everywhere. Electricity is dangerous and it can kill you. When
we think of electricity, we think of a great power that can turn on our lights
and heat our homes. When we think of shocks, we think of pain, even death.
However, seldom do people consider that a shock…a normally painful, deadly or
undesirable shock…can actually save your life. Electricity has many uses in the
medical field and can be used as electric shock treatment to benefit the body in
a great variety of ways.
Electricity and the heart
One of the greatest uses electricity has within the medical community is as a
diagnostic tool. The most notable way electricity is used as a diagnostic tool
is through the use of the electrocardiogram, called the ECG or EKG. The natural
beating of the human heart is driven by quick, short bursts of electricity that
cause the muscles of the heart to contract. This test translates the natural
electrical impulses of a person’s heart into a series of lines that doctors can
read to determine how the heart is functioning. This test can tell a doctor a
great number of things about a person’s heart, including if the heart’s walls
are the right thickness and how medications are affecting the heart’s function.
ECGs can also be used to find the causes behind a variety of symptoms associated
with the heart or heart attacks including chest pain; dizziness; shortness or
breath; rapid breathing; or irregular heartbeats. Similarly, it can check the
function of implanted devices that help the heart stay on track, such as
pacemakers. It can also diagnose heart health in the presence of other diseases
or conditions, such as smoking, high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes or
congenital heart issues.
During an EKG, a health professional may have to shave parts of a person’s body
in order to make a smooth, clear area on which to attach the electrodes.
Sometimes alcohol or a special paste is applied to the skin to add conductivity,
but most modern health care professionals feel the disposable electrodes are
sufficient. An electrode is attached to each of the patient’s arms and legs, and
also to the chest. The patient will be asked to remain very still and breath
normally, refraining from speech, while the machine measures the heart’s
Electricity and heart function
addition to determining if the heart is working appropriately, electric shocks
and stimulation can also serve to keep the heart functioning appropriately.
Pacemakers have been effectively used to control the beating of the human heart
when disease or injury renders it unable to do it alone.
Pacemakers are tiny devices that are powered by batteries that are used to
deliver artificial electroshock signals to the heart, signaling it to beat more
quickly. A pacemaker is usually inserted beneath the person’s skin on his or her
chest. A wire is threaded from the device, through a vein, to the heart. When
the pacemaker releases an electrical shock, the wire transfers the shock to the
heart, causing it to beat.
There are many different sorts of pacemakers. Some work only to make a heart
beat when its natural rhythm gets too slow. Other pacemakers make a heart beat
all the time. There are pacemakers that deliver a shock to the heart only when
it senses that the heart’s beating has become irregular or abnormal. Pacemakers
have become so advanced that some can even sense when a heart’s pace needs to
quicken, such as during exercise, and can automatically adjust to the situation.
A person will receive the type of pacemaker that best fits his or her needs, but
most pacemakers are meant to be kept in place for a long time.
People with pacemakers need to understand their risks. Since the pacemaker is
powered by electrical charges, any change in this spark may cause trouble for
the heart. Specific types of medical tests that use magnets or electricity need
to be avoided in order to reduce the risk of pacemaker malfunction.
Electricity to save lives
The heart can tell doctors when the heart is functioning incorrectly, it can
keep the heart working properly, and it can also start a heart beating again if
it stops. Defibrillation involves issuing a dose of electricity to a
malfunctioning or non-functioning heart. It is meant to depolarize a critical
mass of heart muscles in order to stop arrhythmia and allow the heart’s natural
electrical pulses to take over function of the heart again.
Defibrillation, in the past, was only possible when the chest was opened via
surgery and the heart was fully exposed. Obviously, this meant that
defibrillation occurred only when surgeries were going wrong or when a heart
patient needed a tremendous shock in order to reset the rhythm of the heart. The
closed chest message, which people are likely familiar with from the plethora of
medical dramas on television, is now much more widely used. Even small town
Emergency Medical Technicians have portable defibrillators on board their vans.
Electricity and the Brain
The use of electricity to treat mental illness has been under hot debate for
literally decades. The Romans were said to use torpedo fish, a type of electric
fish similar to an eel, to cure headaches. It was once used to induce grand mal
seizures in mental patients or those with severe cognitive disorders in an
attempt to “bring the patient out of it.” Electroconvulsive therapy began
to be used in earnest in the 1940s and was a brutal treatment for the mentally
ill. Popularized to the public eye in the Jack Nicholson movie One Flew Over
the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the book of the same title by Ken Kesey. This
treatment involves sending electrical impulses into the brain to increase,
decrease or alter function. The main argument against it stems from the fact
that no one can explain exactly why it works. Another argument stemmed from its
lack of regulation and subsequent overuse and abuse.
Today, ECT is mainly used to treat depression. In its beginnings it was used to
combat everything from criminal insanity and deviant behavior to memory loss.
Today, it is most often used to treat severe and chronic depression. Ironically,
one of the most common reported negative side effects is memory loss. The advent
of muscle relaxers and various anesthetics during the procedure have made it
much less painful.
Similar to an ECT, doctors are learning to use deep brain stimulation to treat
various disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain and other movement
disorders. While the causes of many of these diseases greatly differ, the
results are very similar, as are many of the treatments. Much of the treatments
that involved stimulating areas of the brain that have “short circuited” used to
be accomplished through painful and invasive surgeries. Doctors are now
attempting to affect the same stimulation by sending electrical impulses into
the brain. DBS is still considered a major brain surgery and many risks
With DBS, a hole is made in the top of the skull, through which a long, thin
wire or electrode is inserted. A frame, previously attached to the patient’s
head, guides the electrode to insure it stays on the right path. The patient is
awake through the entire procedure. Since the brain does not feel pain itself,
only topical anesthesia is used to numb the skull for the access hole(s). The
patient needs to be conscious in order for the neurosurgical team to ask
questions concerning bodily functions. During the procedure, it is not uncommon
for the patient to experience abnormalities in vision, speech and so forth,
since the areas that control such functions are very near the target area. With
the patient awake and responsive, the neurosurgeons can better target the DBS.
While the risks of this surgery are similar to other surgeries, and the risk of
improper areas being inadvertently stimulated are very real, DBS is a great
resource for some patients. People with Parkinson’s have reported improved
movement symptoms by between 25% and 75%, a huge mark to people who suffer from
shakes or other involuntary motor functions that impair daily living.
Electricity and the muscles
Functional electric stimulation is the process by which professionals, many
times chiropractors, use an electric shock therapy to activate the nerves in a
specific part of the body. Other professionals use electrical stimulation to
treat spinal injuries and paralysis caused by stroke, head injury other
neurological disorders. It has been used successfully to restore bladder
function in some paraplegics and improve motor functions in patients with other
injuries. It has also been used, with some success, in awakening patients from
shock therapy can be used to stimulate involuntary muscle contractions in just
about every muscle in the body. Once used by professionals to build strength
during physical therapy or improve the natural life of arthritic joints by
strengthening the muscles around them, this practice has quickly moved to the
private sector. The common man, especially athletes, can purchase a TENS
(transcutenous electrical nerve stimulation) device that will essentially
stimulate involuntary muscle contractions in the same manner that a professional
may do this. Most people understand that muscles become bigger and stronger
through use, and athletes will use electrically stimulated workouts to improve
muscle mass and function. It is more commonly used by professionals, however,
and the TENS device is often tantamount in treating patients with arthritic
difficulties or chiropractic patients in need of physical therapy.
seems that for every positive there must be a corresponding negative within
society. While there are many documented contributions of electricity in the
medical world, there are some instances where electricity presents a problem.
“Dirty electricity” or stray voltage, has been a documented issue for some
people with specific medical conditions. Obviously, unexpected charges are
dangerous for people who wear pacemakers, as detailed previously, but there are
other diseases and conditions negatively affected by dirty electricity that
people seldom think of. Dirty electricity is a type of electrical pollution that
occurs when electricity leaks from its designated circuit and sends weak charges
into the environment.
has been documented in numerous studies over the years that diabetics respond
directly to the amount of dirty electricity in the air. In a “clean”
environment, their blood sugar is easier to control and diabetics require less
insulin in order to remain healthy and regulated. In polluted environments where
a measurable degree of dirty electricity is present, blood sugar levels are more
dynamic and difficult to control. Studies have also confirmed that borderline
diabetics will remain “borderline” and will avoid dependency on medication
longer if they resided in a clean environment.
While the study of diabetics has gone on for some time, new to the list of dirty
electricity victims are patients with Multiple Sclerosis. These studies were
prompted by the success of installing electric filters in diabetic patients.
Many people with MS report similar symptoms to one another, although severity is
often reflective of the disease’s progression. In one study, several MS patients
were interviewed to determine the range of symptoms. They ranged from weakness
and fatigue, to the near inability to walk. Some reported double vision or
occasional cognitive failures.
Filters were installed in the homes of the subject. Most, even those severely
affected by MS, began to show marked improvement in as little as 24 hours.
Further study showed that symptoms flared when the subject was removed from the
filtered environment but would again subside upon re-entry to a filtered home.
The subject has been posed by more than one scientist that many diseases that
are currently on the rise (asthma, fibromyalgia, ADD/ADHD) may be attributed to
negative electrical situations. Some scientists go as far as to point to dirty
electricity in the growing number of autism cases, as well as heart issues.
Certainly, electricity is a valuable commodity and it has obvious benefits in
the medical community. The improvements it can make on the human body are
amazing and the possibilities for the future are seemingly endless. Will there
come a time when, medically speaking, electricity does more harm than good? Has
society already reached that point and are human beings currently suffering from
the side effects of living in an electrified society? Only the future will tell
what electricity has in store for the remarkable human body.
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