The Importance of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the U.S., but with simple training, you can be ready to respond if someone needs your help. As a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system, cardiac arrest is sometimes a complication of ventricular fibrillation, and causes more than half of the deaths that result from cardiovascular disease. Survival rates jump up sharply from 5 percent to more than 80 percent when someone steps in and quickly uses an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restart the heart.

What is an AED?

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a small, computerized medical device that analyzes a person’s heart rhythm. The AED is programmed to detect the type of heart rhythm that requires intervention. It includes simple instructions and automated voice directions. Used outside of the hospital setting, the AED gives an electrical shock called defibrillation to restart a person’s heart, if needed. Using an AED within the first few minutes can reverse cardiac arrest and saves lives.

When should you use an AED?

Cardiac arrest can occur anytime and anywhere without warning. During cardiac arrest, the person’s heartbeat becomes irregular and erratic — known as ventricular fibrillation — and unless a shock is delivered, the patient will die. Every minute that a patient remains in the erratic heart rhythm, the likelihood of survival goes down exponentially. Heart attacks often occur in the early morning hours when adrenaline and cortisol levels are at their highest.

The operator of an AED must be able to detect symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest. It is time to use an AED if a person:

  • Becomes unresponsive suddenly
  • Stops breathing
  • Does not respond when you tap on the shoulders firmly
  • Does not respond when you ask, “Are you OK?”
  • Does not take a breath when you tilt the head up

This is the emergency situation where every minute counts, so call 911 and look for an AED.

Where can you find an AED?

The American Heart Association encourages public access to AEDs, which should now be available wherever a large group congregates. Laws differ by state, but many states require AEDs in public areas like schools, health clubs, and sports stadiums. All emergency response vehicles are equipped with AEDs. It may be difficult to locate an AED in an emergency, and so having these devices clearly marked workplaces, schools and in public areas is essential. Ask where the AED is in your workplace today.

How can you get trained on using an AED?

The American Heart Association’s Heartsaver training on using an AED is available online, with follow-up hands-on training with instructors. The American Red Cross provides live training and certification for AED use in many communities. Training takes only a few hours because an AED is simple to use and every device includes clear directions. According to the Red Cross, training people to use AEDs and providing ready access to them could save as many as 50,000 lives yearly.

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