Dept of Psychology Research Laboratories

Cardiac Psychology Lab

East Carolina Heart Institute

ECU Cardiac Psychology

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Matters of the Heart: Cardiac Psychology

What is Cardiac Psychology?

Excellent question! Cardiac psychology is a specialization of psychology that focuses on helping cardiac patients cope with life and physical changes associated with heart disease. Cardiac psychologists can help every step of the way: prevention, pre-surgery, post-surgery, and rehabilitation. Please see our "Information for Patients" page for more information.


How the Heart Functions

Your heart acts as a pump that constantly fills and empties blood. When the heart contracts it pumps blood to the rest of your body through arteries, veins, and capillaries. The heart has four chambers that work together to make your heart "beat". There are two upper chambers (the atria) and two lower chamber (the ventricles). Electrical pulses signal the heart to contract and relax. Sometimes our heartbeat becomes too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia).

Occasionally, when our heart beats too quickly, it can progress into a dangerous arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation (VF). This happens when the ventricles beat out sync and start to quiver, instead of contracting and relaxing in a steady rhythm. During ventricular fibrillation the heart is not pumping blood efficiently and the body and brain are deprived of oxygen. This condition is life threatening and can lead to sudden cardiac arrest if it is not treated.


Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator

ICD An Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) is a device that doctors surgically implant inside of your body to protect you from irregular heart rhythms. The ICD is working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is like having the paramedics with you at all times. An ICD is an incredibly advanced piece of medical technology that is programmed specifically for you and your heart. If you are chosen to receive an ICD, you may have suffered from a cardiac episode in the past and your doctors want to best protect you from another in the future. Or, you may be at risk for experiencing a cardiac event in the future.

An ICD detects abnormal heart rhythms evident through tachycardia and bradycardia. It closely monitors and keeps track of whether or not the abnormal rhythms are corrected by the heart. If the heart is unable to restore a normal heartbeat by itself, the ICD sends the appropriate amount of electrical current needed to return the heart back to pumping effectively and efficiently. This is what is referred to as a "shock". In effect, the ICD shock "resets" your heart. The shock is delivered from the device (about the size of a stopwatch) via electrical leads anchored in the wall of the heart.