What is an Automatic Defibrillator?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2019
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An automatic defibrillator, also called an automatic external defibrillator (AED), is a small, lightweight portable medical device that administers an electric shock to the heart of a person who suffers sudden cardiac arrest. An AED may be used in the home, business, in public places, and by first responders and caregivers who have been properly trained to use the device. Advantages of having an automatic defibrillator available include the ability for a rescuer to respond quickly to the victim. The device may not be effective, however, if the victim suffers from a heart problem that cannot be treated with a defibrillator or if the victim is unable to receive treatment in the shortest amount of time possible. Training is highly recommended by most health-based organizations to ensure the safe use of an automatic defibrillator.

An AED offers the convenience of quick, at-home care, or for treatment in public places such as malls, sports arenas, or offices, to name a few. The AED must be placed in an easily accessible area of the home or public area, as well as in emergency vehicles to promptly respond to a cardiac arrest emergency. Medical experts note that the most critical time for care of a cardiac arrest patient is three to four minutes. Otherwise, the risk of brain damage and other complications increases substantially.


First, the caregiver — e.g., a spouse, co-worker, police officer, or flight attendant — must check for breathing and a pulse. Then, the automatic defibrillator analyzes the heart for irregular rhythms through a computer installed into the device. The AED then prompts the caregiver to attach two adhesive pads that accompany the AED to the victim's chest. If defibrillation, or shocking, is necessary, then the device generates an electrical charge, and an automated voice prompts the caregiver to stand clear and press a "shock" button to deliver a shock to the heart. The caregiver may repeat the process until medical help arrives.

AEDs are primarily used to help individuals who suffer from cardiac arrest like ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia, which cause abnormal heartbeat rhythms that can cause the person to collapse. An automatic defibrillator allows for a quick rescue response time and decreases the risk of brain damage, organ failure, or death when used promptly and correctly. Most AEDs may be purchased without a prescription after consultation with a doctor. The downside is that the automatic defibrillator does not treat all heart conditions, and some argue that an AED has the potential to be used at home improperly and without CPR or additional medical help. The device may also prove useless if the patient lives alone because at least one other person should be available to assist if necessary.

Automatic external defibrillators overall may be safe to use when a person receives proper training. Experts recommend getting trained in how the device works at a community center, nonprofit organization, or at college and university. Courses on AED training often combine with CPR training because both life-saving techniques come in handy while waiting for emergency help to arrive on the scene.



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