Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to some of the most popular questions are listed below.

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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.
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 immediately.
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.
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 10 percent.
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.
AED stands for automated external defibrillator.
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.
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.
Remember this rule: only put the unit on someone you would do CPR on... someone who is unresponsive, not breathing, and has no pulse.
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 defibrillation.
Look for the visual text prompts on the AED screen. Some AEDs are now available with full color LCD screens.
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 defibrillated.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
Give rescue breaths at a rate of 1 every 5 seconds, or 12 per minute.
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 patient.
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 quickly.
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 purchased as a separate accessory to the AED.
AEDs are devices manufactured and sold under guidelines approved by the FDA. Current FDA rules require a physician's prescription to buy most AEDs.
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.
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