Want to find out more about AEDs? Here, we answer several common questions about these life-saving devices.
#1 – What is an AED?
An AED is an automatic external defibrillator. It’s a portable, easy-to-use device that you can have in your home or workplace as part of your First Aid kit. Anyone can use an AED because they require no medical or First Aid training.
#2 – What Does an AED Do?
In the event of a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), an AED can provide defibrillation – an electric shock that attempts to reset the heart and trigger a normal heartbeat. This is the only way to restart a heart.
An AED is very user-friendly and safe to use, and utilises voice and visual prompts to tell you exactly what to do and how to do it. It will warn you well before the shock is coming, so that you and other rescuers can stand clear, and it will not deliver a shock unless a suitable heart rhythm is detected.
#3 – What is SCA?
SCA is often confused with a heart attack or other cardiac emergencies, but it’s a very specific condition. A SCA occurs when the internal electrical system in the heart malfunctions causing the heart muscle to contract in an uncoordinated pattern. This unregulated contraction stops the heart functioning as an effective pump, stopping the flow of oxygen to the brain and vital organs. Someone in SCA will very suddenly collapse into an unresponsive state, they will not be breathing or will have an abnormal breathing and you will not be able to feel a pulse. SCA can occur spontaneously or may result from electrocution, drowning, chocking or medical conditions such as a heart attack.
A heart attack is caused by a reduction in the blood supply to the heart muscle when a small coronary artery in the heart is blocked. If the restriction or blockage stops the flow of blood, the heart muscle supplied by that artery is starved of oxygen and it starts to die. It is very important that you call the emergency services quickly, as the sooner the blockage is cleared the more heart muscle will be saved. If a large coronary artery is blocked and a large amount of heart muscle is affected, the heart’s ability to pump blood may be comprised which can lead to a SCA.
#4 – Who Should Have an AED?
An AED is essential First Aid equipment and ideally, there should be one in every home, business, school or public space. This is because 75-80% of cardiac arrests happen away from hospitals while people are going about their daily lives. Sadly, SCA can happen to anyone regardless of their health, age or fitness – including young children.
In order for someone to survive a SCA, bystanders need to step forward and start the chain if survival. They need to check for responsiveness and call the emergency services straight away. Starting hands-only CPR will take over the function of the heart, supplying blood to the brain and prolonging the time that the heart can be reset by an AED.
While CPR is in progress the closest AED should be retrieved and used to deliver a shock to the patient. Ideally the AED should be within 3-4 minutes, as the sooner the heart receives a shock the more likely it will return to a normal rhythm.
Currently, SCAs that occur away from a hospital only have a 10% survival rate, however the survival rates jumps to over 60% when an AED is used before the arrival of Paramedics. Increasing the availability of public access AEDs will help increase the survival rate from SCA.
#5 – Can I Injure Someone with an AED?
No. AEDs have a number of built-in safety features and sensors to ensure they don’t supply an unnecessary shock. The internal computer measures and analyses the heart rhythm, and it will only supply the electric shock if the heart is in a shockable rhythm. Although CPR is vital to supply blood to the brain and other vital organs, an AED is required to restart the heart and save that person’s life.
If someone is having a heart attack or any other cardiac event, you can set up the AED to monitor their heart rhythm. This way, the device is ready and you can act quickly in the event that their heath condition triggers a SCA.
#6 – Can AEDs be Used on Infants, Young Children and Pregnant Women?
Yes, AEDs are safe to use on anyone, even infants. If you work with infants and children, you should get an AED that has paediatric pads, as these are calibrated for use on children under 8 years old. However, if your only option in an emergency is to use adult electrode pads, you may use them by placing one pad on the chest and one on the back of the patient, then provide CPR and deliver shocks as directed by the AED.
For pregnant patients, remember to inform emergency services that the patient is pregnant. Then continue CPR and use the AED as you would for any other adult patient. Remember, providing good CPR and using the AED is their best chance of survival.
#7 – Can I Get in Trouble or Prosecuted for Using an AED?
Many people worry that they can get prosecuted for using an AED, but there are actually laws in place to protect you. These Good Samaritan Laws are in force across Australia in each state and territory, and offer full legal protection to anyone who assists a person in an emergency situation. Full information on protection in your state can be found in the following State and Territory Acts:
- New South Wales – Civil Liability Act 2002
- Victoria – Wrongs Act 1958
- Western Australia – Civil Liability Act 2002
- South Australia – Good Samaritans (Limitation of Liability) Bill 2002
- Australian Capital Territory – Civil Law (Wrongs) Bill 2002
- Queensland – Law Reform Act 1995 (Qld) s 16 and Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld) s 26
- Northern Territory – Personal Injuries (Liabilities and Damages) Act
- Tasmania – Civil Liability Act 2002
#8 – How Should I Store My AED?
In an emergency situation, your AED needs to available quickly and easily. This means you should store it in a publicly accessible and highly-visible area, not a locked cabinet. In businesses and public spaces, you should have regular training to ensure that everyone knows where the AED is and how/when to use it. Custom cabinets and signage can help make your AED and First Aid kits as visible as possible.
If you work in a facility that is higher risk for SCA (for example, factory floors, construction sites, medical offices, etc), then the AED should be located close to high-risk areas. Multiple AEDs may be needed for large facilities.