Automated External Defibrillator

The AED is truly a wonder of modern medical technology. It is portable, easy to use and has the ability to save the lives of those stricken with sudden, violent cardiac arrhythmia. The device is largely automatic. First, it identifies the type of arrhythmia. Then, the AED guides the operator through the process of administering an electrical charge that defibrillates the heart, in essence, shocking it back into a normal rhythm. Precision engineered, these devices are powered by two separate AED batteries; one to power the unit and one to power the defibrillator. It is important that these batteries be regularly checked and maintained. AEDs are specifically designed for ease of use. Though training is recommended, in an emergency, any untrained person can use one.

Types of Arrhythmia
The two most common cardiac arrhythmias are ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation. In both cases, the heart is still functioning, albeit erratically. In the former case, the heart is beating far too fast to efficiently pump the blood and in the latter, the electrical functioning of the heart is chaotic and coordinated pumping between the various chambers of the heart is not possible. Both situations are life threatening if not treated almost immediately. Brain damage occurs within three to five minutes and complete heart failure occurs shortly thereafter.

The device’s name also serves to describe its functionality. An AED is considered an external device because the operator applies the electrodes to the outside of the patient’s chest cavity as opposed to an internal defibrillator that utilizes surgically implanted electrodes that penetrate the patient’s body.

Automatic refers to the unit’s ability to autonomously analyze the patient’s condition, and then to prompt the operator in performing the proper treatment procedures. Visual displays and, in newer models, voice commands assist the operator through every step of the process. Powerful batteries provide the shock that actually save the patient’s life.

The process varies marginally by device but , generally speaking, all AEDs operate in a similar fashion. Opening the cover turns the device on. The AED completes a rapid self-diagnostic and then prompts the operator to prepare and attach the electrodes to the patient’s chest. Once the electrodes are attached, the device provides a warning to “clear” the body. At this point, no contact should be made with the patient’s body to avoid false readings. The device then automatically diagnoses the heart rhythm and determines if a shock is needed.

After diagnosis, if warranted, the device charges the electrodes and, once again, issues the “clear” command. Some AEDs automatically discharge the electric shock but most require human intervention. The operator is instructed to press a button to deliver the charge. This fail-safe procedure avoids the possibility of accidental shock to the operator or to other bystanders. In some circumstances, the AED will indicate that a shock is unwarranted. Typically, the operator is unable to override this advisory regardless of the severity of the situation.

AEDs and their operators have been credited with saving thousands of lives. Regular inspection and maintenance of the power sources, the batteries, is imperative. Then, all it takes to properly use an AED is the knowledge of where they are stored, the presence of mind to find one in an emergency and the ability to follow instructions. Of course, attending a training class wouldn’t hurt either.

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