Diseases & Conditions

Automated External Defibrillation - Automated External Defibrillators


Overview & Description

A defibrillator is a device used to stop an abnormal heart rhythm. It works by sending a harmless electrical shock to the heart. The heart often responds by returning to a normal beat.

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is small and self-contained. It has simple controls and can be used without much training.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

This can be a life-saving procedure for people whose hearts stop beating, a condition called cardiac arrest, or who have a heart attack. In these cases, an electrical shock is often the only way to get the heart back to a normal heartbeat. The quicker the shock is given, the more likely the person is to recover.

How is the procedure performed?

The operator applies two electrodes to the person's chest. These electrodes are attached to the AED. The AED has a microprocessor that is able to identify the heart rhythm. It prompts the operator to give a shock if needed. A shock is given by pressing a button on the unit.

AEDs are becoming more common in malls, airports, airplanes, and other places where large crowds gather. Everyone who takes an advanced cardiac life support course is taught how to use an AED.


Preparation & Expectations

What happens right after the procedure?

After the shock is given, the person's heart may begin to pump again. If no pulse is felt, a second or third shock may be needed. If the person regains a pulse and begins to arouse, basic life support is continued.

If this occurs in a non-hospital setting, someone should call 911 right away for help. If the person does not respond to the shock, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be given until help arrives.


Home Care and Complications

What happens later at home?

This will depend on the extent of the person's heart condition. The abnormal heart beat may be a one-time event, or may be part of a heart condition that needs treatment.

What are the potential complications after the procedure?

AEDs rarely cause problems, and the benefits far outweigh the risks. An electrical shock can be accidentally delivered to a bystander if he or she is touching the person when the shock is delivered. The unit warns the operator to be sure that all people are cleared before the shock is delivered.


Attribution

Author:Vincent J. Toups, MD
Date Written:
Editor:Smith, Elizabeth, BA
Edit Date:06/14/00
Reviewer:Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Date Reviewed:08/09/01

Sources

Advanced Cardiac Life Support Manual 1997-1999

Tintinalli, Judith, Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 1996