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You are here: Home > AED Program Planning > Cardiac Arrest & AED Basics

Cardiac Arrest & AED Basics

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the United States, striking more than 350,000 individuals each year. Sudden cardiac arrest can happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time - without warning, without symptoms, and regardless of age or general health. People who suffer sudden cardiac arrest usually do not know in advance that they are vulnerable to this fatal condition.

Ventricular Fibrillation

SCA is most often caused by ventricular fibrillation (VF), an irregular, quivering heart rhythm. The victim stops breathing, and no pulse is present. Defibrillation, an electric shock to the heart, is the only effective treatment for VF, stopping the chaotic activity and allowing a coordinated heart rhythm to resume. SCA can be caused by electrical shock, allergic reaction, drug overdose, suffocation, drowning, heart attack (myocardial infarction), or, in many cases, for no apparent reason.

What is Defibrillation

Defibrillation is the delivery of a specific electrical shock to the heart. This shock stops the uncoordinated electrical activity of the heart, and allows the return of the heart's regular rhythm and pulse. Defibrillation is the only definitive treatment for sudden cardiac arrest, and time is very critical.

Surviving SCA

Surviving SCA is largely dependent on how quickly the patient is defibrillated. For each minute that defibrillation is delayed, the victim's chance of survival decreases by seven to ten percent. The patient suffers irreversible brain damage within 4 to 6 minutes after cardiac arrest. After 10 minutes, few victims of SCA survive. The American Heart Association estimates that an additional 50,000 lives could be saved each year with widespread access to defibrillators.

Automated External Defibrillators

Over the last 10 years, advances in technology and design have made defibrillators easy to operate for people with little training. Modern automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are safe, easy to use, effective, and reliable. The defibrillator will only permit a shock to be delivered if a specific, irregular heart rhythm is detected. It will not allow a shock to be delivered if one is not needed. No longer must one sit and wait for help to arrive as precious seconds pass. No longer must one rely on CPR, which can buy time for a sudden cardiac arrest victim, but alone cannot save a life.

Designed for the Layperson

AEDs are simple to use, and designed for rescuers with minimal training. Simple voice and/or text instructions guide the rescuer through the resuscitation.

Safe and Effective

AEDs are designed to permit a shock to be delivered only when needed. The AED quickly analyzes the victim's heart rhythm through adhesive pads placed on the chest and only allows a shock to be delivered when a shockable rhythm is present.

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