You've seen it time and again on television shows: After someone suffers
a sudden heart attack, emergency room doctors grab the paddles and
deliver an electric shock to the patient to help restart a stalled
Such scenes may play out for real at airports, malls, sports arenas,
health clubs, golf courses and even some businesses—and you could be
holding the paddles. That's because technology has given us the
automated external defibrillator (AED), which is turning up far from
hospitals. Some schools and public buildings already have AEDs.
Defibrillation is necessary when a heart begins to beat irregularly. An
AED uses an electric shock to help the heart return to its normal rhythm
Here's a Q & A to bring you up to speed.
What is an automated external defibrillator?
An AED is an electronic device about the size of a large laptop
computer. Trained emergency personnel—or almost anyone else who has had
some training—can use an AED to see whether a heart attack victim needs
a jolt of electricity to the heart and, if so, to provide the right
Do you need a lot of training?
No. The average person, with no medical background, can learn to use an
AED in an hour or two. Usually, people learn to use an AED in a
four-hour course that also teaches cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
The computerized device will tell a rescuer to keep going if the cardiac
arrest stems from either ventricular fibrillation or ventricular
tachycardia. Ventricular fibrillation is the most common heart-rhythm
problem in victims of sudden cardiac arrest.
Won't the cost of devices such as AEDs keep them out of most community
No. The cost of the device has fallen sharply in the past few years.
Do we really need AEDs in places other than hospitals?
The rate of sudden cardiac death can be reduced by placing AEDs in the
community and by teaching people how to use them. Time is of the essence
when cardiac arrest occurs. The rate of survival, literally, drops 10
percent for every minute that goes by without this type of help.
Is an AED useful for all types of heart attack?
No. When a user puts the AED's electrodes on a victim's chest, the
device will read whether the patient's heart needs to be shocked or not.
Then the AED will prompt the rescuer through visual and voice commands
about the next step. Many of the newer models will talk you through it
and will deliver the shock itself if it reads a shockable rhythm.
Do AEDs make CPR obsolete?
Absolutely not. The two go hand in hand. CPR can double the chances of
survival when used at the moment of collapse and just before an AED
delivers a shock. CPR should be started while someone runs for the AED.
Does research back the community use of AEDs?
Yes. Research shows the survival rates of people who had sudden cardiac
arrest in casinos and got prompt AED treatment from security personnel
trained to use AEDs. The survival rate for people who got their first
shock no more than three minutes after collapse was 74 percent, compared
with 49 percent for those shocked after more than three minutes.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.