Answers to some of the most popular questions:
What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) simply means that the heart unexpectedly stops
beating due to an abrupt loss of electrical impulse. This condition results in
hundreds of thousands of deaths each year in the U.S..
Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest the same as a heart attack?
No. A heart attack is a condition in which the blood supply to the heart muscle
is suddenly blocked, resulting in the death of the heart muscle. Heart attack
victims usually (but not always) experience chest pain and usually remain
conscious. Heart attacks are serious and sometimes will lead to sudden cardiac
arrest. However, sudden cardiac arrest may occur independently from a heart
attack and without warning signs. SCA results in death if not treated
Who is at risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
SCA is difficult to predict and most victims have no prior symptoms. Anyone who
has suffered SCA, a heart attack, or knows they have an arrhythmia may be at
greater risk. While the average age of sudden cardiac arrest victims is around
65, sudden cardiac arrest can strike anyone, anywhere, and at any time.
What is Ventricular Fibrillation?
Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is an abnormal heart rhythm often seen in sudden
cardiac arrest. This rhythm is caused by an abnormal and very fast electrical
activity in the heart. VF is chaotic and unorganized; the heart just quivers
and cannot effectively pump blood. VF will be short lived and will deteriorate
to asystole (a flat line) if not treated promptly. For each minute that VF
persists, the likelihood of successful resuscitation decreases by approximately
What is Defibrillation?
The only effective treatment for VF is an electrical shock called
defibrillation. Defibrillation is an electrical current applied to the chest,
and to be successful, should be administered within 3 to 5 minutes after
collapse. The electrical current passes through the heart with the goal of
stopping the VF and giving an opportunity for the heart's normal electrical
system to take control and pump blood again. After 10 minutes without defibrillation,
very few resuscitation attempts are successful.
What does AED stand for?
AED stands for automated external defibrillator.
What is an AED?
An AED is a device used to administer an electric shock through the chest wall
to the heart. Built-in computers assess the patient's heart rhythm, judge
whether defibrillation is needed, and then administer or advise to deliver the
shock. Audible and/or visual prompts guide the user through the process.
What if I mistakenly apply the AED to someone who fainted
but still has a pulse which I couldn't feel?
The AED makes shock delivery decisions based upon the patient's heart rhythm,
and will not allow a shock to be delivered if not needed. Simply put, the
machine will not let you shock a non-shockable rhythm.
How do I recognize the need for defibrillation?
Remember this rule: only put the unit on someone you would do CPR on... someone
who is unresponsive, not breathing, and has no pulse.
What if I forget the steps for using the AED?
The steps for shocking a patient in cardiac arrest are simple and
straightforward. Just follow the visual and audio prompts provided by the AED.
The most difficult part is actually recognizing the need for
What if I can't hear the voice prompts of the AED?
Look for the visual text prompts on the AED screen. Some AEDs are now
available with full color LCD screens.
Should I do CPR first or apply the AED?
Conduct CPR only until the AED arrives. Apply the electrodes to the patient's
bare chest and follow the voice prompts and messages of the AED. It will tell
you when to resume CPR. CPR is a holding action until the heart is
If defibrillation is so important, why should I do CPR?
CPR provides some circulation of oxygen-rich blood to the victim's heart and
brain. This circulation delays both brain death and the death of the heart
muscle. CPR buys some time until the AED arrives. Studies also show that CPR
makes the heart more likely to respond to defibrillation.
Can I be sued using the defibrillator?
To date, there has never been a case where someone was held liable for using an
AED. However, there have been lawsuits for not having an AED regarding/the
"standard of care." Most states have passed "Good
Samaritan" legislation protecting the lay rescuer from lawsuits.
Can I accidentally shock myself or another rescuer?
AEDs are extremely safe when used properly. The electric shock is programmed to
go from one pad to/another through the victim's chest. Basic precautions, such
as verbally warning others to stand clear and visually checking the area before
and during the shock, can ensure the safety of rescuers.
Do I need to remove the defibrillator pads before doing
No. The pads remain on throughout the resuscitation and until the patient is
transferred to advanced care providers such as paramedics. If the pads are in
their correct locations on the patient's chest, they will not interfere with
proper hand placement or compressions.
Should I use the AED if the patient has a pacemaker or is
Absolutely. Never withhold AED use from a person in cardiac arrest. If the
person in question meets all the criteria of cardiac arrest (unresponsive, not
breathing, no pulse) they are essentially "dead." Using the AED
can only help and not make matters worse.
Can I defibrillate on a wet surface?
Yes, as long as the usual safety precautions are observed. Be sure the victim's
chest is wiped dry. Keep the defibrillator electrodes away from a damp or
conductive surface. Clear the victim and defibrillate.
How much of the patient's clothing needs to be removed to
carry out defibrillation?
The chest should be exposed to allow placement of the disposable defibrillation
electrodes. A woman's bra should be removed. Clothes may need to be cut off to
facilitate early defibrillation.
After I have successfully defibrillated the victim
and have return of a pulse, do I keep the AED on the patient?
Yes, even after the patient has been successfully defibrillated, they are still
at risk of developing ventricular fibrillation again. The AED will continually
monitor the victim for the return of VF. If VF is suspected, the device will
prompt you. The AED should be left on until emergency personnel assume
responsibility for the patient.
In some cases the victim may be hours away from advanced
care so keeping a recently revived person calm and leaving the pads on is vital
especially if there are not extra pads available.
What if the patient regains a pulse but is not breathing
or is breathing slowly?
Give rescue breaths at a rate of 1 every 5 seconds, or 12 per minute.
What if I don't perform all the steps of CPR and
A cardiac arrest is a high stress situation. Even the most experienced health
care providers do not always do everything perfectly. In a cardiac arrest,
performing CPR, even imperfectly, and using a defibrillator can only help the
Is it okay to place the electrodes directly on a hairy
Electrodes must come in direct contact with the skin. If the chest hair is
excessive as to prevent good adhesion of the electrode, the hair must be removed
What if the victim is a child?
Follow your protocols regarding/the lower age or size limits for children set
by the manufacturer and labeled on the AED. Pediatric pads or a pediatric key
to lower the energy output are available for children and infants, however,
these pediatric pads or key are usually purched as a separate accessory to the
Can anyone buy an automated external defibrillator?
AEDs are devices manufactured and sold under guidelines approved by the FDA.
Current FDA rules require a physician's prescription to buy most AEDs.
How much does an AED cost?
The price of an AED varies by make and model. The range in cost of a new AED is
$1199.00 – $3000.00 and used AEDs can be purchased for as little as $795.00.