The Automated External Defibrillator

The automated external defibrillator is a computerized medical device, the sole purpose of which is to restart a person’s defibrillatore automatico after they have suffered cardiac arrest. When conductive pads or “paddles” from the machine, are placed on the victim’s body, the defibrillator can detect and monitor the heart beat to determine if defibrillation is necessary. If it is, after a short set up time, it will deliver an electric shock through the chest wall to the heart in an attempt to “kick start” it back into a normal, healthy rhythm.


If you are unfamiliar with defibrillators, and unsure of the term “defibrillation”, here is a brief explanation. Sudden cardiac arrest is, as the name suggests, the sudden cessation of a regular heartbeat. When a victim suffers sudden cardiac arrest it is often due to an arrhythmia (a fluttering, chaotic, and very weak “beating” of the heart muscle). It can be triggered by various things, such as:

a previous heart attack,
congestive heart disease
a swift impact to the chest area
When the heart is in this condition it is “fibrillating” (the noun is “fibrillation”). The defibrillator attempts to stop this fibrillation. It does this with an electric shock, that shuts down the heart momentarily and allows it to “reboot” and recalibrate to a stable rhythm.


Defibrillators are not new. In fact they were first used in the mid-1900s. But it was not until recently that new technology has elevated these devices to new heights. They can now be portable, lightweight, easy to use, and affordable to pretty much anyone. They do come by different names, such as: automated external defibrillators, AED’s, automatic external defibrillators, and portable defibrillators.


Every day around 600 people in the US die of sudden cardiac arrest. One of the reasons that tally is so high is the suddenness and rapidity with which it claims its victims. This is because, when cardiac arrest occurs, the heart ceases to efficiently pump blood around the body, effectively shutting down the oxygen supply to the vital organs and the brain. Once this happens, the person has only a few minutes (between four and six on average) before brain and body death begin in a direction that soon becomes irreversible.


The two (and probably only) effective medical remedies are:

  1. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) – in which the rescuer deeply depresses the chest area in rhythmic, successive motions, in an attempt to regain a pulse and begin the heart beating normally again.
  2. Defibrillation – in which one or more electric shocks is delivered to the heart, stopping it momentarily, allowing it to recalibrate and gain the needed momentum to begin again a stable, rhythmic beat.

CPR, in this type of situation can help the victim. However it is no substitute for defibrillation.

The defibrillator can actually determine for the rescuer (by analyzing the heartbeat – or lack of one) whether or not CPR is a good idea, and then audibly direct him or her through the process. It can also determine if defibrillation is needed, and again, walk the rescuer through the steps necessary.

The ideal scene would be to have both available, but given a choice in the matter, obviously an automated external defibrillator has to be it.


As you can see from the above, training in the correct use of an automated defibrillator is not wholly necessary as they are able to give a rescuer on the spot directions . However, training is recommended. In the first place it is good to know the layout of the machine and its controls before having to use it. Secondly, it is a good idea to know the exact steps you’re going to need to take in an emergency situation. For this reason manufacturers of AED’s do offer training resources. Training is also available from: the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, the National Safety Council, the American Health and Safety Institute, and more.


Sudden cardiac arrest is a serious health threat in this country as well as many other parts of the world. With heart disease the number one killer in the US, mortality rates from sudden cardiac arrest look to increase over the next decade or two (unless poor dietary habits and regular exercise routines become part of our everyday life).

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