If you have existing heart disease, it is possible to control your condition with a combination of medication, exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet. But the fact is, if you have heart disease, even if you practice healthy habits you are at greater risk of having a heart attack than someone without heart disease. And if you have already had one heart attack in the past, you have an even greater chance of having another.
If you have a heart attack, administering CPR will greatly increase your chance of survival. This is because someone else can keep your heart beating until the paramedics arrive to revive you. And in some cases, CPR alone can help jump-start the heart.
But if there is no one around who knows CPR, or is willing to administer it, then the chances of survival are greatly reduced. Having an AED on hand can take the place of CPR. An AED is also “user friendly,” with very clear instructions and little need for training.
An AED, or automatic electronic defibrillator, delivers an electric shock to the heart – just like the shock paddles you would find in a hospital emergency room, or ambulance. The difference between the AED and the hospital crash cart is that the entire device is automated. With the crash cart, the technician has to set the voltage and manually deliver the shocks.
The AED is a self-contained device, approximately the size of a large first-aid kit. In public places you can usually find them mounted on the wall near designated first-aid stations. The unit is composed of the body which contains the charge mechanism and digital readouts, and two electrical leads with adhesive pads on the end.
The AED also contains instructions for use, including pad placement, and some models also give voice commands. During an attack, the responder would attach the pads to the victim’s chest per the instructions on the device.
The AED does not restart the heart and it will not deliver a shock if the heart is not beating. What it does is detect the presence of a phenomenon called fibrillation. The heart normally contracts and relaxes in a steady rhythm. In fibrillation, the heart quivers or shakes instead of contracting and relaxing. When the heart is fibrillating, it can’t pump blood through the body, which can ultimately lead to death.
When the AED detects fibrillation, it automatically sets the voltage, and notifies the rescuer to clear the area – to avoid anyone else getting shocked – and push the button to deliver the shock.
Once the shock has been delivered, the AED will check the heart beat again. If the heart is beating steadily, the AED will rest. If the heart is still fibrillating, the AED will repeat the shock sequence at a higher voltage until it detects a heartbeat, or until it has delivered three charges.
Although AEDS are usually found in commercial settings, like malls and fitness centers, there are several AED brands that can be purchased for home use as well. And if you run a small business, having an AED on site – in addition to a standard first-aid kit – ensures that you are prepared if someone has a heart attack in your office.
When it comes to heart attack, prevention is the best cure. But if a heart attack does occur, early intervention with an AED could make the difference between life and death.