Miniature defibrillators and cardioverters detect abnormal heart rhythms and automatically apply electrical therapy to restore normal heart function. Critical components in these devices are aluminum electrolytic capacitors, which store and deliver one or more life-saving bursts of electric charge to a heart of a patient. This type of capacitor requires regular reform to preserve its charging efficiency over time. Because reform expends valuable battery life, manufacturers developed wet-tantalum capacitors, which are generally understood not to require reform. Yet, the present inventors discovered through extensive study that wet-tantalum capacitors exhibit progressively worse charging efficiency over time. Accordingly, to address this problem, the inventors devised unique reform techniques for wet-tantalum capacitors. One exemplary technique entails charging wet-tantalum capacitors to a voltage equal to about 90% of their rated voltage and maintaining this voltage for about five minutes before discharging them.
Robert S. Harguth, Ron Balczewski, William J. Linder Gregory Scott Munson Michael Wesley Paris
Original Assignee: Wilson Greatbatch Technologies, Inc.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention concerns capacitors, particularly wet-tantalum capacitors used in medical devices, such as implantable defibrillators, cardioverters, pacemakers, and more particularly methods of maintaining wet-tantalum capacitors in these devices.
Since the early 1980s, thousands of patients prone to irregular and sometimes life threatening heart rhythms have had miniature defibrillators and cardioverters implanted in their bodies. These devices detect onset of abnormal heart rhythms and automatically apply corrective electrical therapy, specifically one or more bursts of electric current, to hearts. When the bursts of electric current are properly sized and timed, they restore normal heart function without human intervention, sparing patients considerable discomfort and often saving their lives.
The typical defibrillator or cardioverter includes a set of electrical leads, which extend from a sealed housing into the walls of a heart after implantation. Within the housing are a battery for supplying power, a capacitor for delivering bursts of electric current through the leads to the heart, and monitoring circuitry for monitoring the heart and determining when, where, and what electrical therapy to apply. The monitoring circuitry generally includes a microprocessor and a memory that stores instructions not only dictating how the microprocessor answers therapy questions, but also controlling certain device maintenance functions, such as maintenance of the capacitors in the device.
The capacitors are typically aluminum electrolytic capacitors. This type of capacitor usually includes strips of aluminum foil and electrolyte-impregnated paper. Each strip of aluminum foil is covered with an aluminum oxide which insulates the foils from the electrolyte in the paper. One maintenance issue with aluminum electrolytic capacitors concerns the degradation of their charging efficiency after long periods of inactivity. The degraded charging efficiency, which stems from instability of the aluminum oxide in the liquid electrolyte, ultimately requires the battery to progressively expend more and more energy to charge the capacitors for providing therapy.
Thus, to repair this degradation, microprocessors are typically programmed to regularly charge and hold aluminum electrolytic capacitors at or near a maximum-energy voltage (the voltage corresponding to maximum energy) for a time period less than one minute, before discharging them internally through a non-therapeutic load. (In some cases, the maximum-energy voltage is allowed to leak off slowly rather being maintained.) These periodic charge-hold-discharge cycles for maintenance are called reforms. Unfortunately, the necessity of reforming aluminum electrolytic capacitors reduces battery life.
To eliminate the need to reform, manufacturers developed wet-tantalum capacitors. Wet-tantalum capacitors use tantalum and tantalum oxide instead of the aluminum and aluminum oxide of aluminum electrolytic capacitors. Unlike aluminum oxide, tantalum oxide is reported to be stable in liquid electrolytes, and thus to require no energy-consuming reforms. Moreover, conventional wisdom teaches that holding wet-tantalum capacitors at high voltages, like those used in conventional reform procedures, decreases capacitor life. So, not only is reform thought unnecessary, it is also thought to be harmful to wet-tantalum capacitors.
However, the present inventors discovered through extensive study that wet-tantalum capacitors exhibit progressively worse charging efficiency over time. Accordingly, there is a previously unidentified need to preserve the charging efficiency of wet-tantalum capacitors.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
To address this and other needs, the inventors devised methods of maintaining wet-tantalum capacitors in implantable medical devices. One exemplary method entails reforming this type of capacitor. More particularly, the exemplary method entails charging wet-tantalum capacitors to a high voltage and keeping the capacitors at a high voltage for about five minutes, before discharging them through a non-therapeutic load. In contrast to conventional thinking, reforming wet-tantalum capacitors at least partially restores and preserves their charging efficiency.
Another facet of the invention includes an implantable medical device, such as defibrillator, cardioverter, cardioverter-defibrillator, or pacemaker, having one or more wet-tantalum capacitors and means for reforming the capacitors. Yet another facet includes a computer-readable medium bearing instructions for reforming wet-tantalum capacitors.