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AED Defibrillator 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. AED devices 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 device primarily designed to assist victims of sudden cardiac arrest. AEDs analyze the heart’s 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 does an Automated External Defibrillator cost?

New and premarket FDA approved AED units typically cost between $1,500 – $3,000. Used or refurbished machines can be purchased for $600-$800, but in that situation it’s very important to research carefully and if possible, examine the unit before purchasing a used AED defibrillator.

Shop new FDA approved AEDs at Heartsmart.

When is an AED device used?

AEDs have been designed for immediate use when a victim is experiencing cardiac crisis. An AED device is the only way to potentially restore a regular heart rhythm in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.

At the actual life-saving scene a first responder should begin performing manual CPR on the patient immediately. If possible, the rescuer or rescuers must call 911 and find a way to locate a nearby defibrillator. It is strongly recommended that an AED defibrillator be put to use immediately upon being located.

What do AED machines treat?

An automated external defibrillator treats human heart conditions in all ages when these conditions result in sudden cardiac arrest. Conditions underlying the need for cardiopulmonary resuscitation might include types of arrhythmias such as ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia or premature ventricular beats (PVCs). Arrhythmias cause the heart to beat too fast, too slowly, or in an irregular pattern, thus inhibiting or stopping blood and oxygen flow to the brain and body.

We might wonder, what about heart attacks? Can heart attacks be treated using a fully automatic AED? According to the AHA a heart attack is distinguished from sudden cardiac arrest because it has as its root a circulation problem while sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. That being said, the Mayo Clinic states that a heart attack can act as a trigger for ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac arrest. In this case, emergency procedures with an AED machine are definitely suitable.

The AHA cites out-of-hospital cardiac arrest as having a very high mortality rate–90% of those who experience an acute cardiac event do not survive. CPR, especially if provided immediately after cardiac arrest is capable of doubling or tripling the chance an affected person will survive. The treatment shock from an AED device provides vital organs a desperately needed opportunity to establish a consistent heart rhythm.

How does an AED machine 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 non function, 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.

Types of AED machines and accessories

All defibrillators, regardless of AED brands or products chosen, analyze a patient’s heartbeat to detect any irregular heart rhythms. If arrhythmia is detected, the AED will deliver a recalibrating electric shock to the heart. This is basic defibrillation at work, but are there different types of AEDs? Can AEDs be accessorized differently? The answer to both these questions is yes, automated external defibrillators can be tailor-fit and accessorized to meet necessary standards at different workplaces and organizations.

For example, defibrillation in a medical crisis at a school could require a fully automatic AED which also includes accessories, pediatric pads or a pediatric key. These specifications would enable the school to promise its stakeholders the best emergency response possible. This would also enable a young person to use the machine and ensure the AED could deliver the attenuated shock necessary to reestablish the heart rhythm of a child less than 55lbs.

Accessorizing AEDs can fine-tune their usefulness and ensure everything needed for any cardiac arrest event is immediately available. Many AEDs come with certain AED supplies included, such as the pediatric pads or pediatric key mentioned above. AED units often include–or can be augmented to include depending on the model–necessary accessories not limited to first aid supplies, AED stand, extra adult pads and/or pediatric pads, quick response keychains, back-up or replacement batteries, conductive adhesive gels, infant AED keys and hardware keys with alarms for medical cabinets.

Which AED is best?

When it comes to shopping AEDs, the best AED will be the one most capable of meeting the requirements of the buyer’s use-cases and the location of the AED. For example, the Philips Heartstart Onsite is currently the only AED available without a prescription, and the only AED FDA approved for home use.

Different AEDs will have specific features, benefits, and drawbacks depending on the way each machine has been designed and marketed. FDA approved AED machines have been quality checked prior to release to be up to federal standards.

While all automated external defibrillators are designed to perform the same life-saving function, AED manufacturers such as ZOLL, Philips and Physio Control have gone to great lengths to understand how, when, where, under what conditions, and by whom AEDs will be used. This has resulted in the production of an assortment of AEDs and AED accessories all designed to be the best in specific situations and price points. This allows clients to optimize/customize each AED kit.

You can learn more about buying an AED in our AED buyer’s guide.

Summary of AED basics

AED machines can be carried directly to the site of a cardiac crisis, and because AEDs work by vocally guiding first responders through the First Aid and CPR process, almost anyone can immediately use the defibrillator even before medical professionals arrive on the scene.

The best AEDs for homes, businesses or organizations will vary and will be the defibrillators best suited to the needs and unique requirements of each entity. In the same vein, AEDs can be accessorized to suit necessary individual requirements.

New AEDs can be costly but come with the guarantee of confidence and FDA approval. Refurbished AEDs may be less expensive but require research and examination before purchase. Federal laws exist to ensure all new AED defibrillators are FDA approved.

Most AEDs have an easy-to-follow, instructional, life-saving guide built right into the unit. The lightweight, battery-powered and portable AED device is designed to resuscitate patients who are unconscious due to cardiac distress. They restore a normal sinus rhythm to the heart. Studies have shown automated external defibrillators to double or triple the likelihood a dying patient will survive.

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