When it comes to Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), time is critical. SCA is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, leading to an immediate loss of blood flow to the body’s vital organs. Survival requires immediate intervention, and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) play a vital role in saving lives. A victim of SCA is essentially already dead without immediate care. Please read on to explore why using an AED cannot make a person “more dead” and delve a bit into the science behind an AED’s life-saving capabilities. 

Understanding Cardiac Arrest 

As we’ve reviewed in previous blogs, it’s critically important we understand what SCA is and what it looks like. Unlike a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage in the blood vessels supplying the heart, SCA occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. This malfunction can lead to chaotic, irregular heart rhythms, such as ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT). Just picture shaking a bowl full of Jell-O. In these cases, the heart doesn’t pump blood effectively, and without immediate intervention, the outcome is fatal. 

The Role of AEDs 

AEDs are portable, easy-to-use devices designed to analyze a person’s heart rhythm and deliver an electric shock (defibrillation) if necessary. The shock is meant to restore the heart’s normal rhythm by briefly stopping all electrical activity in the heart. Again, picture the heart shaking like a bowl full of Jell-O. The only way to stop it, is a shock from an AED which triggers the brain to stop or flat line the heart and say “something isn’t right here” and then triggers the heart to beat again in a normal, organized rhythm.  

Why You Can’t Make a Person “More Dead” 

Some individuals may be concerned they could apply the AED to someone who may not need it. AEDs are specifically designed to treat certain types of cardiac arrest rhythms, such as VF and VT. They will not shock unless the detected rhythm is shockable. A victim of SCA is essentially dead as immediate defibrillation with an AED is the only way to correct these rhythms.  

AEDs have targeted intervention meaning they are programmed to analyze a person’s heart rhythm before delivering a shock. If the AED determines that a shock is necessary, it has detected the heart’s electrical system is experiencing a malfunction (VF or VT). The shock is designed to disrupt this chaotic activity and increase the chances of restoring a normal rhythm.  

SCA is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. AEDs are indispensable tools in the fight against cardiac arrest. Understanding the science behind AEDs is essential to raising awareness about their life-saving potential and goal to eliminate the fear behind using one. Bystanders often will not provide care to an SCA victim because fear stands in their way. In a cardiac arrest situation, remember that time is of the essence, and the prompt use of an AED can make all the difference in saving a life!