You have probably seen an AED, or Automatic External Defibrillator, whether you realized it was an AED or not. At the airport, mall, grocery or gym, AEDs are in cabinets on the wall just like fire extinguishers. They are becoming more common, despite the steady increase of prices for AEDs. Awareness of how important an AED is in a medical emergency is growing every day, and that’s a good thing. The use of an AED plays the largest role in surviving Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), which is the largest cause of death for adults in the United States. In the US, over 350,000 adults die yearly from SCA. If you know how one works, you can use one without fear and increase a persons chance of survival from next to nothing, to up to 50%!
The acronym AED, stands of course for Automatic External Defibrillator.
Automatic – because the AED checks your heart and IT decides if the patient needs a shock.
External – because the AED isn’t inside your body.
Defibrillator – because all the AED will do is de – fibrillate the patient’s heart.
The heart is a sophisticated conglomeration of integrated muscles and valves that contract and relax to pump blood throughout the body. It’s crucial that all the heart muscles work together in order to achieve this goal. What happens in SCA is that all of those muscles get thrown off electrically. Instead of them all working together to get the job done, they fire, or contract on their own with blatant disregard for one another. The heart is still alive, and moving, but the heart is no longer pumping blood. The heart is having a bit of a seizure, quivering, jittering and laboring without moving blood to the brain and without supplying itself with the blood it needs to stay alive. This is SCA.
When SCA occurs, the patient loses consciousness. The patient also stops breathing. Within 4 minutes brain damage starts mounting. Within 10 minutes there is little chance of survival without an AED. Another way to look at this time span is that for every minute that passes without defibrillation, or the use of an AED, the person loses a 10% chance to live.
You can see how it is so important to get that defibrillator to the patient as quick as possible.
If a person collapses, is unconscious and isn’t breathing, or is only gasping, do CPR until the AED arrives. When the AED arrives at the scene – it is to be turned on. The AED will use voice prompts to tell you exactly what to do. Essentially, place electrode pads on the patient’s bare chest according to pictures printed right on the pads.
When those pads hit skin, the AED automatically knows to check the heart and is looking for ventricular fibrillation, that bad heart rhythm that I described above. If the defibrillator senses that one heart rhythm, it will announce that a shock is advised. The AED will charge itself and tell you to push a button to deliver a shock.
That shock will travel through the body, through the heart and tell that misbehaving heart “You Stop That!”. The shock stops all activity, resets the parts of the heart that control it’s coordination and releases the heart. When this fibrillation has been terminated, the heart has a solid chance of pumping again. Of course the quicker the AED is used, the better the chance of survival.
If the AED doesn’t detect ventricular fibrillation, it won’t deliver a shock. You can’t weaponize an AED, there isn’t any way to hurt anyone. I know that makes it a bit boring for some. For the rest of us, it empowers us to use it knowing that the worst we can do is use a set of pads and screw up the person’s shirt. If we are worried that they are in SCA – it’s worth it. It’s way better to use an AED when we don’t need to, than to withhold the use of a defibrillator when it is needed.
If someone is unconscious and you aren’t sure they are breathing perfectly normally – TURN ON THAT AED and follow instructions. It’s just too easy to really jack this person’s chance of survival up exponentially! Come take a CPR certification class from Georgia CPR, we can go over all the interesting details not included here.
Of course I love to oversimplify everything, so here’s how it goes. An AED will check your heart, and if a shock is needed it will deliver a hard re-boot shock to the heart, straightening it out so it can live another day.