Q: What is sudden cardiac arrest?
A: Sudden cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heartbeat stops abruptly and unexpectedly. This usually is caused by ventricular fibrillation, when the bottom ventricle of the heart quivers uncontrollably and cannot pump blood. Rapid defibrillation is the only effective treatment for this.
Q: Is sudden cardiac arrest the same as a heart attack?
A: No. A heart attack is a condition in which a blood clot suddenly blocks a coronary artery, resulting in the death of heart muscle supplied by that artery. Heart attack patients usually experience chest pain and usually remain conscious. Heart attacks are serious and sometimes lead to sudden cardiac arrest. However, sudden cardiac arrest may occur independently from a heart attack and without warning signs. Sudden cardiac arrest results in death if not treated immediately.
Q: Who is at risk for sudden cardiac arrest?
A: While the average age of sudden cardiac arrest patients is about 65, sudden cardiac arrest is unpredictable and can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Q: What is an AED?
A: An AED, or automated external defibrillator, is a device that automatically analyzes heart rhythms and advises the operator to deliver an electric current if the heart is in ventricular fibrillation, an otherwise fatal rhythm.
Q: Do I have to be a doctor, nurse or paramedic to use an AED?
A: No. Non-medical people can use AEDs successfully after a few hours of training.
Q: How do AEDs work?
A: AEDs are automated - they take the decision making process out of the hands of rescuers and place it in an internal computer chip. They don't use paddles but instead have patches called electrodes that are easily placed on the patient's chest. The device uses a recorded message to give step-by-step instructions to the user. The AED analyses the heart and will only deliver a shock to the patient if it detects the presence of cardiac rhythms that require defibrillation. If the patient is not in cardiac arrest, the AED will not deliver the shock.
Q: What about CPR?
A: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an integral part of the "Chain of Survival." In the absence of a defibrillator, CPR can be used from the time of collapse until the defibrillator arrives - this may extend the amount of time that a patient can still be successfully defibrillated. The probability of survival is improved if the patient receives CPR while waiting to be defibrillated.
Q: Shouldn't we wait until the paramedics arrive?
A: It is impossible in the majority of cases for paramedics to arrive at the sides of sudden cardiac arrest patients quickly enough to initiate CPR and give rapid, life-saving defibrillation. The reason is this: For every minute that passes after a sudden cardiac arrest, the chance for survival drops by 10 per cent.
Always start CPR first.
Q: What if I forget the steps for shocking a patient?
A: The steps for shocking a patient in cardiac arrest are simple and straightforward. Just follow the visual and audio prompts provided by the AED machine.
Q: Can I hurt the patient with an AED?
A: Most patients of sudden cardiac arrest will die if their hearts are not shocked right away with a defibrillator. If you follow standard procedures and routine safety precautions, your actions can only help.
Q: Can I accidentally shock myself?
A: AEDs are extremely safe when used properly. The electric shock is programmed to go from one pad to the other through the patient's chest. Basic precautions, such as not touching the patient during the shock, virtually ensure the safety of rescuers.
Q: Do all ambulances carry defibrillators?
A: Yes. All ambulances and fire response vehicles and marked police cars carry AEDs.
Q: Should AEDs be used on children who suffer sudden cardiac arrest?
A:Yes. Rescuers should always attempt to use paediatric pads when applying an AED to children and infants. If paediatric pads are not available rescuers can use adult pads placed anterior-posterior (front and back) due to the child or infant’s smaller size.
If the pads touch each other (this can cause electrical arcing), they should not be used.
Q: Our organization has limited resources. Why should we spend our money on an early defibrillation program?
A: An automated external defibrillator is the most important computer a business could ever buy. It is a key occupational health and safety investment. Over 50 Canadian organizations involved in emergency cardiac care, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation, encourage the widespread availability of automated defibrillators. AEDs are becoming standard emergency care, and starting in October 2000, anyone trained in CPR in North America will automatically be trained on AED use as well.
Q: What if the AED malfunctions?
A: When AEDs are maintained properly, malfunctions are extremely rare. They require little maintenance. In the unlikely event that a device does not work, follow manufacturer's recommendations and do CPR until help arrives.