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AED Overview

Automated External Defibrillators (AED): An Overview

Automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, are important emergency medical equipment used when a victim is experiencing cardiac arrest. AEDs are a key component in the chain of survival along with CPR and advanced life support that deliver an electrical shock when needed to restore healthy sinus rhythm to a victim’s heart. With sudden cardiac arrest as the number one natural killer in the United States each year, AEDs are extremely important to have available.

To better understand these medical devices and their important role in emergency rescues, explore the important introductory information below.

What is an AED?

An AED is a lightweight, battery-powered portable emergency medical devices primarily designed to assist victims of sudden cardiac arrest. AEDs analyze the hearts rhythm to detect any irregularities in heartbeat. These irregularities are known as cardiac arrhythmia. If detected, the AED can deliver an electric shock to the heart. This is known as defibrillation. The electrical shock is transferred through electrode pads to stop an irregular heartbeat. The shock provides the heart the opportunity to establish a consistent sinus rhythm once again.

Related Article: Learn how to place AED pads on adults and children

How much do AEDs cost?

AEDs typically cost between $1,500 – $3,000. Used or refurbished AEDs can be had for less, but it’s important to carefully examine the unit before purchasing a used AED.

When are AEDs used?

AEDs are used when a victim is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. An AED device is the only way to potentially restore a regular heart rhythm in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.

During sudden cardiac arrest (known as SCA), the electrical system in the heart has suddenly malfunctioned. Typically, a type of irregular heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation (VF or V-Fib) has occurred in the heart’s lower chambers. AEDs can be used on teens, adults, and children to correct this issue. When used in combination with CPR, the AED forms an essential link in the chain of survival.

What does an AED treat?

An AED treats sudden cardiac arrest in adults, children and teens.

Sudden cardiac arrest has a vary high mortality rate. 90% of those who experience a sudden cardiac arrest event do not survive. About 350,000 people die from SCA in the United States every year.

In most cases of sudden cardiac arrest, an electrical malfunction in the heart occurs, causing the heart to unexpectedly stop beating. Blood ceases to flow to the brain and other critical organs. What we do know about sudden cardiac arrest is that an AED is one of the best options for resuscitating the victim.

How do AEDs work?

An AED checks the heart’s rhythm through electrode pads and sends an electrical shock to the victim’s heart if an abnormal rhythm is detected. Voice prompts from the defibrillator will instruct the user on what to do.

You can learn more about this process in greater detail in our article on “How To Use An AED”.

Who can use an AED?

An AED can be used by almost anyone. In addition to its potentially life-saving function of shocking the heart to re-establish a consistent rhythm, each AED machine also features audio and visual prompts that walk the user through the essential steps of operation.

This means any layperson can use an AED.

The best case scenario is that the user of the AED will have received training on how to use it and perform CPR. Still, training is not required in order to use an AED and hopefully save a victim of sudden cardiac arrest in an emergency.

Do I need an AED?

Deciding whether you need an AED can be a difficult task. In some cases, you might legally be required to have an AED for your school, gym, or public swimming pool. In most situations, however, it’s a choice. In those cases, understanding the benefits of having an AED is important to making a good decision. We explore both situations below:

Situations which may Legally Require an AED (check your state’s laws) (Please note that these do not hold true in all states, only some. There’s are no federal laws outlining a requirement to have an AED)

  • School
  • Gyms, Health Clubs, and Fitness Centers
  • Dental Offices
  • Large Capacity Buildings
  • Coal Mines
  • Dialysis Centers
  • Golf Courses
  • Detention facilities (jails, prisons)
  • Beaches and swimming pools
  • Optometrists
  • Quarries
  • Racing and gaming facilities

Benefits of an AED:

  • AEDs are the ONLY treatment for sudden cardiac arrest
  • Patients in cardiac arrest who are defibrillated in under 5 minutes have a higher rate of survival than those who receive CPR only
  • AEDs onsite improve response time, saving precious minutes
  • Safe and easy to use

Why is the maintenance of an AED so important?

AED maintenance is crucial for keeping your AED ready for use in an emergency. Poorly maintained AEDs can result in malfunction or nonfunction, ultimately leading to a sudden cardiac arrest victim’s death. Certain AED components need to routinely be replaced in order for the AED to function properly. This includes the AED pads and the AED battery, which are absolutely vital to an AED working properly.

Here are some of the most important elements of AED maintenance inspection to follow to ensure that your defibrillator will always be ready to perform in a medical emergency.

  • Since the AED should always be stored in a centralized, highly visible location, you can simply walk by the device each day and see its status indicator light. If the light is green, the device is charged and ready to use. If the light is red, there is a problem occurring with the device that warrants further inspection to define the issue.
  • Keep the AED charged by plugging it into a wall when not in use. This will ensure that the device’s primary battery remains fully charged in the event it needs to be used on a victim.
  • Electrode pads should be unexpired and sealed in their original packages. If the pads are out of their packages, it may be that they have already been used. Replenish this supply by promptly ordering multiple sets of pads for adults and children.
  • Test your batteries. You will see an area on your AED that enables you to test the device’s primary battery. If you’ve used the AED recently, you probably have a device that’s currently operating with a depleted battery. This would be an unwelcome surprise when you go to use the AED on a sudden cardiac arrest victim and have no backup battery either. Which brings us to our next point…
  • Keep a backup battery. You not only need at least one extra set of electrode pads (at least) but you also should store a backup battery with the AED to eliminate the risk of a primary battery not being able to perform. Having a regularly tested backup battery on hand will ensure your AED is always ready to perform.
  • Replenish all first aid supplies for your AED. If you’re dealing with a victim who requires their skin to be cleaned or chest hair to be trimmed in order for the electrode pads to properly work, you can’t be scrambling to identify whether or not you have all the right first aid supplies. Essential first aid supplies to keep stocked with your AED are: razors, scissors, towels and cloths, and alcohol prep pads.

Which AED is best?

The best AED is the AED that matches your or your businesses requirements and budget. Different AEDs have different features, benefits, and drawbacks depending on the use case. For more information on which AED is best, take a look at this AED guide.

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