The doctor grabs the defibrillator paddles, rubs them together (more for the visual effect than for any medical reason) and yells "Clear!" He then places the paddles on a patient's chest, delivering an electric shock to the patient and "restarting" the heart.
Anyone could experience a cardiac arrest. If you have severe heart disease, you are at higher risk of sudden cardiac arrest. An automated external defibrillator (AED) - a lightweight, portable device - can save your life automatically, even if it happens with less flair than in the movies.
Important: an AED can resuscitate someone only if they have a specific type of heart rhythm disturbance.
When to use an AED?
Arrhythmia, or a heart rhythm disturbance, can cause the heart to beat too fast (for example, in case of ventricular tachycardia) or irregularly (such as in ventricular fibrillation). Altered heart rhythm causes the heart to pump erratically and ineffectively, compromising blood flow to vital organs. An AED can restore normal heart rhythm and "bring someone back" from sudden cardiac arrest caused by an arrhythmia.
Disrupted blood flow to the brain and other organs could cause death if not restored within minutes. Even is the victim survives but treatment takes too long, permanent damage to the brain and vital organs could happen. It is critical to normalize heart rhythm as quickly as possible.
If someone develops ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia and an AED is nearby, that person is lucky. A bystander, friend or family member can grab the AED, open the case and attach the self-sticking defibrillator pads called electrodes to the victim's chest. The AED will automatically recognize the heart rhythm and the type of arrhythmia (if one is present), and send an electric shock to the heart if it can correct the rhythm. The faster this can happen, the better for the patient.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest can keep blood flowing to your heart and brain, but not very vigorously and only for a short while. Often, only defibrillation can restore the heart's normal rhythm.
How to use an AED
If you believe that you need to use an AED on someone, first ask the bystander (or do it yourself if nobody else is around) to contact the emergency services to get help on the way.
Then, as suggested by the Red Cross:
- Turn on the AED and follow the visual and/or audio prompts.
- Open the person's shirt and wipe his or her bare chest dry. If the person is wearing any medication patches, you should use a gloved (if possible) hand to remove the patches before wiping the person's chest.
- Attach the AED pads, and plug in the connector (if necessary).
- Make sure no one is, including you, is touching the person. Tell everyone to "stand clear."
- Push the "analyze" button (if necessary) and allow the AED to analyze the person's heart rhythm.
- If the AED recommends that you deliver a shock to the person, make sure that no one, including you, is touching the person – and tell everyone to "stand clear." Once clear, press the "shock" button.
- Begin CPR after delivering the shock. Or, if no shock is advised, begin CPR. Perform 2 minutes (about 5 cycles) of CPR and continue to follow the AED's prompts. If you notice obvious signs of life, discontinue CPR and monitor breathing for any changes in condition.
- The home AED comes with an instructional training video that shows how to use and maintain the device. If you buy an AED, everyone in your home should watch the video and review it periodically.
Better to have an AED and not need it, than need it and not have it
Police and ambulance crews carry AEDs. AEDs should also be available in many public places, including malls, office buildings, theaters and airplanes. Since many cardiac arrests happen at home, a home AED can save a life by quickly restoring normal heart rhythm and adequate blood circulation.
Who especially needs an AED at home?
People with a high risk of cardiac arrest could benefit greatly from having an AED at home. An AED can provide peace of mind and could help save their lives. Here are some things to keep in mind when acquiring an automated external defibrillator:
- Risk of sudden cardiac death. If you are at high risk of sudden cardiac death due to a specific heart rhythm problem, your doctor may recommend an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) rather than an AED.
- Living arrangements. You need another person to use the AED on you if you have cardiac arrest. This person needs to be mobile enough to get on the floor to use the device and get back up.
- Overall health and philosophy. If you have multiple medical problems, a terminal illness or a very weak heart that has not responded to treatment, you might choose not to be resuscitated from sudden cardiac death.
Proper use and maintenance of AEDs
If you get an AED for your home, make sure that family, friends and visitors know where it is and how to use it. AEDs need proper maintenance. Consider doing the following:
- Register your AED with the manufacturer. That way you will receive safety alerts and recall notices. Also, check the manufacturer's website periodically to keep current on information about your device.
- Take an AED class. Consider enrolling yourself and whoever might need to use your home AED in an education class, such as those offered by the American Red Cross, to learn how to use your automated external defibrillator properly and to perform CPR.
- Practice with an AED and simulate an actual emergency. The AED works only on certain types of cardiac arrest. Therefore, prospective AED users should know what to do if the AED indicates a shock is not needed but the person remains unresponsive.
- Keep your AED in an easily accessible place. Make sure family, friends and visitors know where it is.
- Keep the AED maintained properly, including installation of new batteries as needed, typically every four years, and replacement of electrode pads as needed.
- Pay attention to alarms. Home AEDs are designed to test themselves to make sure they are working properly. Be sure you can hear the alarm. If your machine starts beeping, or you see a red or flashing light, call the device manufacturer.
- Choose the correct AED. Some AEDs are not intended for home use, but rather for emergency crews or for installation in public places. Do not be lured by websites or other sellers offering AEDs not intended for home use.
Give us a call at 777-5483 if you have any questions about AEDs.