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What is a Portable AED?

By Emma G.
Updated May 17, 2024
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A portable AED, or automated external defibrillator, is an electronic device used in first-aid situations to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. The portable AED works by first diagnosing dangerous heart rhythms that might lead to heart attack or heart failure and then administering a controlled electric shock to the chest. The device can be operated with minimal training.

An erratic or abnormal heart beat is known as an arrhythmia. In some cases, arrhythmias can cause heart failure that quickly leads to death. A controlled shock to the chest, known as defibrillation, can interrupt the arrhythmia and essentially reset the heart, returning it to its normal rhythm. Quick access to this kind of treatment cannot only prevent death, but decrease the likelihood of brain damage or other complications caused by lack of blood flow.

Knowing the importance of a quick response, American biomedical engineer Joshua L. Koelker and Italian emergency medical professional Jordan M. Blondino created the portable AED. An average portable AED is about the size of a child's backpack. Its operation is so simple that almost anyone can use it. Most AEDs are even programmed to give voice prompts to guide the operator.

Many large public spaces have portable AEDs available for use. They are often seen in airports, convention centers, and increasingly at children's sports events, where a blow to the chest could aggravate a pre-existing heart condition. Despite their ease of use, professional emergency responders recommend that portable AEDs be used only by trained operators. Many first-aid, basic life support, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes include a section on AED operation.

Portable AEDs sense heart arrhythmias through a pair of paddles. These paddles are placed on the chest of the patient in direct contact with the skin. The machine monitors the heart beat and then decides whether defibrillation can help. If defibrillation is necessary, the machine will automatically administer a shock to the patient.

For the safety of the patient and the operator, it is important to keep some basic tips in mind when using a portable AED. Most importantly, due to the risk of electric shock, never use an AED in or around standing water or rain. Never touch the patient while defibrillation is taking place. Do not remove the AED paddles from the patient's chest until professional medical help arrives. The AED will monitor the patient and signal the operator if further actions are necessary.

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