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What is an AED?

Last Updated: October 17, 2019

Did you know that each year more than 420,000 people find themselves in need of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) due to out-of-hospital cardiac arrests?

Understanding the severity of cardiac arrests and how to handle them outside of a hospital setting is important, even for non-medical personnel.  Using an AED is one of the surest ways to help someone suffering from a cardiac arrest.

Today, we are going to take a look at how your body’s heart functions, what an AED is, and how an AED can save the lives of those suffering from cardiac arrest.


How the Heart Works

Heart WorkflowYour heart is a large organ located under your rib cage and slightly to the left of your sternum.  It pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body and carries waste away from your body’s tissues.

In a nutshell, your heart is dedicated to sustaining your life.

Your heart is made up of two distinct sides, the right and left side.  When your heart pumps, both sides work together to continuously deliver oxygenated blood to your entire body.  In short, blood from your body that is low in oxygen pumps through the right side of your heart and into the lungs where it is oxygenated.  The oxygen-rich blood then enters back into your heart, this time on the left side, and is pumped throughout your body thus keeping you alive.

The heart has an internal electrical system controlling both the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat.  With each heartbeat, an electrical signal travels from the top of your heart down to the bottom causing it to contract and pump blood.  This is how blood travels through the body.


What is Cardiac Arrest?

Someone suffering from cardiac arrest experiences an abrupt loss of heart function.  This means that the normal rate and rhythm of their heartbeat is off and affecting the proper delivery of oxygenated blood to the body.

It is important to note that cardiac arrest is not the same thing as a heart attack, although the terms are often intermixed.

  • Heart Attack – Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops the normal flow of blood to the heart.
  • Cardiac Arrest – Cardiac arrests, on the other hand, are due to the heart’s electrical system malfunctioning.

When your heart’s electrical system malfunctions the abnormal heartbeats are called arrhythmias.  During an arrhythmia your heart beats too fast, slow, or irregularly.

Some arrhythmias are so severe that blood stops pumping in and out of it altogether.  This is when a cardiac arrest occurs.

  • Ventricular Fibrillation – This is the most common cause of a cardiac arrest and occurs when the heart’s lower halves on either side do not beat normally. Instead, they quiver rather than contracting.  This means that blood cannot pump properly out of the heart and into your body.
  • Ventricular Tachycardia – This is when your heart’s lower halves simply beat too fast. This fast contracting of the muscles may lead to ventricular fibrillation or lower your blood pressure to fatal levels.

The solution for both ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia is defibrillation.  This is when a shock is administered to the heart to put the heartbeat back into its normal rhythm.

This process of defibrillation must be done quickly because for every one minute the heart is not beating, and thus pumping blood to the body, a person’s chance of survival drops 7-10%.


What is an AED?

Automated External Defibrillator (AED) DeviceAn automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that can check your heart’s rhythm and detect any abnormalities.  If an irregular heartbeat is detected, an AED can defibrillate your heart using an electrical shock to stop the irregular beat and allow a normal rhythm to resume.

AEDs are devices used to treat cardiac arrests.  They are not designed to shock asystole, also known as “flat line” heart patterns, where no heartbeat is detected.  The only way an AED can be effective is if there is some heartbeat rhythm detected.

Using an AED requires very little technical training, meaning even non-medical personnel can use this life-saving device to help a person in need.

However, those in the Maryland area who wish to become proficient in using an AED can take AED classes or participate in online AED training to learn the basics of recognizing an emergency and how to use an AED.

The great thing about AEDs is they are exactly what their name implies: automated.  They automatically diagnose a person’s heart rhythm and determine if a shock is necessary which will be administered to the chest through two pads.

All devices, such as the brand trusted by Chesapeake AED Services, will administer the shock automatically only if the person requires it.  In addition, many models have voice commands that can help guide a Good Samaritan with no previous experience using an AED help the person in need to regain a normal heartbeat and survive.


What are the Benefits of an AED?

When Chicago’s Heart Start program was studied to see the effects of having AEDS on-hand immediately over a two-year period, the results were astounding.  Of 22 patients that went into a cardiac arrest, 18 were treatable via an AED.  Of those 18, 11 patients survived thanks to the shock therapy that was delivered during the cardiac arrest.  What’s more, 6 of those surviving patients were treated by non-medical personnel with no previous training in AED use.

AEDs have the potential to give more Good Samaritan bystanders a chance to save a life while emergency services are on their way.  In addition to standard CPR procedures, AEDs make the diagnoses and treatment of a cardiac arrest easier for people who have never worked in the medical field before.  This includes professionals such as police, fire service personnel, flight attendants, security guards, and even laypeople in the area when a cardiac arrest occurs.


Where are AEDs found?

You might think that AEDs are only found in medical settings, but thanks to their portable nature and the fact they can be used by practically anybody, even children, this is not the case.  Here are some common areas you may find an AED:

  • Corporate buildings
  • Shopping centers
  • Airports/airplanes
  • Restaurants
  • Casinos
  • Sports stadiums
  • Health/fitness centers
  • Theme parks
  • Workplaces

Universal AED Symbol Baltimore, MD

You can locate an AED in a public area very easily since they are often brightly colored and mounted in protective cases near entrances of buildings, much like a fire extinguisher is.

Additionally, in 2008 the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation issued a universal AED sign to be adopted throughout the world to indicate the presence of an AED.

Although there are some variations when it comes to the universal AED symbol, the general idea remains the same worldwide and the bright green color is often associated with the device or protective case.


Final Thoughts

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SAC) is the leading cause of death in the United States.  Understanding that anyone can suffer from a cardiac arrest at any moment and knowing that even you, an innocent bystander, can do something to save someone’s life in a an emergency using an AED is invaluable.

If you are currently residing in the Maryland area and want to learn more about how to save someone’s life using an AED, contact Chesapeake AED Services to register for one of our AED classes.

You can receive on-site training, obtain your certification immediately upon completion of the course, and even receive notifications when your certification is up for renewal.

You never know when you might be faced with an emergency situation that you can remedy.  Take a proactive approach to understand the effectiveness of using an AED and save someone’s life!