What is a Defibrillator?

A defibrillator is a machine that uses an electronic pulse or shock to the heart to return the heart to its normal beat. The device can prevent or correct arrhythmias, which is a heartbeat that is either too, slow, too fast, or uneven. They can also restore the heart to begin beating again if it stops.

People of any age might need access to a defibrillator.

There are three different types of defibrillators, and they work in different ways. Implantable Cardioverters (ICDs) are placed inside your body through surgery. There is a wearable version of that (WCDs), which rests outside the body. The one people likely think of most commonly is the Automated External Defibrillator, which emergency responders and hospitals use to save people having sudden cardiac arrest.

The shocks delivered by the devices vary. Low-energy shocks delivered by wearable or implantable devices are hardly noticeable. High-energy shocks, however, can be painful, and may feel as though you’ve been kicked in the chest. That type of shock kicks in to correct arrhythmia. You could notice arrhythmia symptoms right beforehand, which may include chest pain, difficult breathing, blurred vision, feeling faint, light-headedness, sweating, and dizziness.

Why Might Someone Need an Automated External Defibrillator?

An AED delivers and electric shock that can correct arrhythmia, to allow a normal heart rhythm to resume after sudden cardiac arrest. SCA is the abrupt loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness that comes when a heart’s pumping action is disrupted by an electrical disturbance.

Most SCAs are a result of a rapid and resynchronized heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, which occurs in the heart’s lower chambers (called ventricles).

SCA is not the same as a heart attack. In a heart attack, blood flow is partially blocked; with SCA, it stops entirely. The arrhythmia stops blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. If a person does not receive immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with an AED, sudden cardiac arrest can and will lead to death. Even if a person does survive, if the heart is stopped long enough, it can lead to permanent damage of the brain and other organs.

What Makes an Automated External Defibrillator Different?

Automated External Defibrillators are lightweight and portable. They’re incredibly important because non-medical personnel can be trained to use them. Most AEDs even include voice prompts that guide users through the process when the machine is turned on.

Once the machine is on and adhesive electrodes are put in place a built-in computer checks for a heart rhythm and calculates whether defibrillation is necessary. If it deems that it is, a recorded voice will prompt the user of the machine to press the shock button, which will deliver an electrical shock that momentarily stuns the heart. By stopping the heart’s activity, the muscle can then resume beating at a normal, effective rhythm.

Training with an AED

The American Red Cross offers Automated External Defibrillator classes both in person and online. You can also take part in the organization’s Blended Learning system, which uses a combination of simulated learning and interactive instruction online as well as in-person classes called “skill sessions.”

AEDs are pricey to keep in a home, but should be on hand at large stores. A LIFEPAK CR Plus AED, for instance, costs around $1700. Cheaper ones will be closer to $1300, where more expensive ones will range around $2900.

The Red Cross says the average response time for medical help after a 911 call is between 8 to 12 minutes. Each minute of that time where a person who needs defibrillation doesn’t get help, the odds of survival are reduced by about 10%. That’s why having access to AED, and having someone on hand who knows how to use it, is critical, according to the Red Cross.

The American Heart Association also offers AED lessons through local training centers nationwide.

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