Signs announcing the availability of an "AED" abound in airports, Rupp Arena and perhaps even your office building. But what exactly is an AED?
An automated external defibrillator is a portable device that can help diagnose and treat someone who's having a heart attack. Like the "paddles" we see in television dramas, an AED delivers an electric shock to the heart to reestablish a normal rhythm.
Most sudden cardiac arrests result from ventricular fibrillation. This is a rapid and unsynchronized heartbeat starting in the heart's lower pumping chambers (called the ventricles). Research has shown that rapid response in cases of sudden cardiac arrest is critical, as a victim's chance of surviving drops by 7 to 10 percent for every minute a normal heartbeat isn't restored.
Locating AEDs in public areas, such as churches, fitness centers, airplanes, shopping malls or other places where many people congregate can potentially save lives. With simple audio and visual commands, AEDs are designed to be simple to use for the layperson. Ideally, individuals should have received AED training, but it's been reported that students as young as the 6th grade have successfully used an AED.
How does it work? Adhesive electrodes placed on the victim's chest check heart rhythm and calculates whether a shock is needed. If so, the device will direct the rescuer to press the shock button, which momentarily stuns the heart and gives it a chance to resume beating effectively.
What should you know? First, see whether there is an AED where you work, live or play, and if so, know its location. Then make sure you know whether anyone nearby has had AED training. More importantly: don't assume that having an AED nearby means you don't need to learn CPR. AEDs cannot treat all types of heart attack, and CPR is similarly effective in a cardiac emergency.
AED and CPR training is widely available through the American Heart Association (Heart.org) or other community groups.