Why Should You Know About Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)?


Sudden cardiac arrest refers to the sudden loss of function in a person’s heart – the heart stops beating. Cardiac arrest can occur in seconds, often without warning.

According to the American Heart Association, about 475,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest each year. That’s more than colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, the flu (influenza), pneumonia, car accidents, HIV, firearms, and house fires combined.

If a person experiences cardiac arrest in the hospital, trained professionals will respond in a matter of moments to restart the heart; however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most cases of cardiac arrest happen outside of the hospital - more than 350,000 per year. This is devastating, because when people experience cardiac arrest in the community, more than 70% die before making it to a hospital. But, they don’t have to.

Every second of every minute matters in cases of cardiac arrest, and every person can be more informed and educated about how they could help in an emergency such as cardiac arrest – in the critical moments before emergency professionals arrive.

When it comes to cardiac arrest, one potential lifesaver is the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

So What Is an AED?

Automated external defibrillators are portable devices that can shock a person’s heart back into normal rhythm during cardiac arrest. One of the biggest benefits of AEDs is that you don’t have to be a medical expert to use them.

The basics of an AED:

  • An AED has electrodes that attach to a person’s skin and can analyze the heart’s rhythm.
  • If defibrillation (a shock) is needed to restart the heart’s rhythm, an audible prompt from the device tells the user to press a shock button.
  • The device shocks the heart to give the heart a chance to restart normal rhythm.

How Can AEDs Save Lives?

In the American Heart Association’s Circulation Journal report, it was reported that when a bystander uses an AED during cardiac arrest, chances of survival double. The more people know about AEDs, and the more AEDs available in the community, the more lives can be saved. In fact, the American Red Cross estimates better training and more readily available AEDs can save up to 50,000 lives each year.

If you believe someone is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest:

  • You or someone else should immediately call 911.
  • You or someone else should begin chest compressions.
  • If an AED is available, someone should be instructed to retrieve it.
  • Follow the AED’s directions and audible prompts to place the electrodes and determine if a shock is needed.

Every minute matters, and when emergency responders arrive on the scene, they will take over. They will ask you questions about the condition of the individual and any actions you’ve taken.

Where Would I Find an AED?

AEDs are available in many public places, usually in highly visible, easy-to-access areas, such as by elevators, in lobbies, or near kitchens and bathrooms in office buildings.

In addition to ambulances, police vehicles, fire engines, and medical facilities, you will likely find AEDs in many of the following places:

  • Sports stadiums
  • Shopping malls
  • Airports/airplanes
  • City/county buildings
  • Convention centers
  • Hotels
  • Schools
  • Museums