As more people around the world are being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, the need for immediate intervention when sudden cardiac arrest occurs has gained more attention and, fortunately, help is increasingly just a few steps away. Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are being installed in public facilities, such as schools, airplanes, casinos, sports stadiums, shopping centers, and railway stations, and they are easy enough to use that no specialized training is required.
An AED defibrillator delivers an electric shock to the heart of a patient who has gone into ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT). Both these conditions occur when the normal electrical impulses of the heart are thrown off beat, causing the heart to beat erratically, in the case of VF, or dangerously fast, in the case of VT. These conditions are both life threatening and require immediate medical care.
Any time cardiac arrest is suspected, the first and most important thing a bystander can do is call 911 or whatever emergency response telephone number that serves the local community. Doing so activates the emergency response medical personnel trained to handle this type situation and gets them to the emergency scene in the shortest amount of time possible.
Time is critical in the case of cardiac arrhythmia (irregular rhythm) because the condition interrupts blood flow throughout the body. When blood flow to the brain is stopped for only a few minutes, brain cells begin to die and permanent damage can occur. By prompting the heart to beat regularly again, and by doing so as soon as possible, the patient's quality of life is spared.
No formal training is required to operate an AED defibrillator, especially those installed in public places. Simply open the storage unit and take the AED to the patient in distress. Operating instructions are clearly and simply printed and some devices even have voice prompts that make using them almost foolproof.
The AED defibrillator has two pads that must be placed on the patient's bare chest so the device can electronically detect the rhythm of the patient's heart. It takes about 10 to 20 seconds to detect a pattern and, if the device senses either VF or VT, it will prompt the user to press the shock button, which administers an electric pulse through the patient's heart. This pulse provides electrical interference to the impulses causing the heart to beat dangerously and will often cause the heart to beat normally once again.
It's becoming more common for a patient with heart disease to have an AED defibrillator at home, where it's handy any time a suspected cardiac event occurs, but the growing trend of installing these devices in public places is saving lives of people who don't even know their health is in jeopardy and bringing peace of mind to those who do.