Many people are aware of the importance of knowing how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in a cardiac emergency. However, many public places also have automated external defibrillators (AEDs) nearby to provide quick assistance to a person experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.
In people who have a dangerous ventricular arrhythmia that causes sudden cardiac arrest, an AED can shock the heart, stopping this arrhythmia and allowing the heart to get back into a normal rhythm.
AEDs are designed to be used by any bystander during an emergency involving sudden cardiac arrest. Various community organizations have placed these devices at locations where people tend to congregate, such as sporting events, malls or schools.
While somebody suddenly passing out and having a ventricular arrhythmia may be infrequent, having an AED nearby allows anyone to provide lifesaving help during these situations. For those who want more formal instruction, some organizations provide AED training, often along with CPR classes.
"These types of events happen unpredictably, so everyone should be familiar with the location of the AED at their places of work and/or recreation," said Adam Shapira, MD, medical director of electrophysiology services at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano.
AEDs use a recorded voice to walk you through the steps needed to properly provide aid to someone who appears to be in sudden cardiac arrest. Using adhesive electrodes placed on the chest, the device checks the person's heart rhythm to detect life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias.
AEDs are programmed specifically to detect the abnormal heart rhythms that cause sudden cardiac arrest and provide an electrical shock only if the person is truly in need of it. The electrical shock stops the dangerous rhythm and allows the heart a chance to resume to normal.
AEDs can be a lifesaving tool. The longer a person is in one of these potentially fatal arrhythmias, the longer the heart and brain do not get the oxygen they need. A person's chance of survival goes down with each minute they remain in a dangerous arrhythmia.
"Time is of the essence, and defibrillation is one of the most effective means of getting someone back to a normal rhythm as soon as possible," Dr. Shapira said. "For someone who is truly having ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, an AED provides an effective therapy."
Because minutes can make a difference in the outcome in these emergency situations, AEDs, along with CPR, can be valuable tools to provide assistance until medical help arrives.
"Learn where they are located and know how to use them," Dr. Shapira said. "You never know when you might need one."
Find out more about the diagnosis and treatment of heart arrhythmias at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano.
Physicians are members of the medical staff at one of Baylor Health Care System's subsidiary, community or affiliated medical centers and are neither employees nor agents of those medical centers, The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano or Baylor Health Care System.