Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) training are two different life-saving techniques, that when used together, are the most effective way of saving a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. Generally, these two techniques are taught together in first aid courses, but if you are unsure of the difference between the two, or when to use each method, keep reading.
What is CPR?
CPR refers to the first aid technique where an individual repeatedly compresses a person’s chest to stimulate blood flow and essentially provide an artificial heartbeat. This method is used for someone who has experienced sudden cardiac arrest; which is when a person’s heart unexpectedly stops beating. This procedure will help prevent the patient’s organs from dying and the chances of them having brain damage before their heart can be restarted.
What is an AED?
Chances are you’ve seen an AED before, although it was likely on a medical TV show. You may remember a familiar scene where the doctor grabs a device, pull out two paddles, place them on the patient’s chest and yells “CLEAR!”, before shocking the patient with the two paddles. The device that the doctors are using in that scenario is an AED, a portable device that provides electric shocks which can be used to restart the heart. CPR alone is very unlikely to restart a heart, but when CPR is used with AED, a person’s chance of survival significantly increases.
AEDs are very well designed, and will automatically analyze the heart rhythm of a victim and will only shock them if they are in ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT). They will not shock patients who don’t need it, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally shocking yourself when using one. This simple design means that even those with little to no experience can effectively use AEDs to save someone’s life.
How does an AED work?
When a person is in VF or VT, the nerve impulses being sent from the brain to the heart are so confusing that the heart is unable to work properly, and usually flutters or twitches instead of beating. An AED will shock the heart to stop it from spasming. The hope is that the nerve impulses will “re-set” and resume their normal pattern, so that the heart can begin beating normally again.
Where can I find an AED?
AEDS are common in public locations, including major department stores, shopping centers, airports, grocery stores, and even some public transit vehicles. Your workplace likely has one too, and you may want to consider buying one for your home if your family has a history of heart disease. However, your first step in a medical emergency should always be to call 911, and 911 operators can usually tell you where the closest AED is located. First responders will always have one, so if you are without an AED, just do CPR until help arrives. Hopefully, we’ll soon have better ways to find AEDs, as there are many companies creating apps to locate all the AEDs around your location during an emergency.
How do I use an AED?
Before using the AED, make sure the patient is not lying in any puddles of water. If they are, move them to a drier area. Once they are in a safe location, turn on the AED. It will give you step-by-step instructions on what to do (or there should be written instructions with the AED). Essentially, you will need to expose the person’s chest, make sure it is dry, and trim any excess chest hair. Having too much hair will prevent the electrodes’ sticky pads from having a good connection with the person’s skin. Once you have done that, you can place the electrode pads on the person’s chest- one pad on the right center of the person’s chest above the nipple and the other slightly below the other nipple and to the left of the ribcage. You may want to remove any metal objects like jewellery and underwire bras from the person, to prevent any burns from occurring when the device shocks them.
The device will analyze the patient’s heart and will let you know if a shock is needed. Stand back and press the “shock” button on the AED to deliver a shock. Although, don’t worry, if you do happen to be touching the patient when the shock occurs, you’ll likely only feel a slight tingle.
And don’t worry about getting sued for using this procedure on a stranger- Good Samaritan laws will protect you.
I don’t know which one to use? CPR or AED?
If you are with a person who has experienced sudden cardiac arrest, your first step should always be to call 911. If you’re unable to leave the victim, ask someone else to call 911 on your behalf. Whether you should do CPR or get an AED will depend on your situation.
If you have another person with you, one of you should go find an AED, while the other does CPR. However, if you are alone, you may be better off just doing CPR if you don’t know where an AED is, or if there isn’t one close by. If you are unsure of what to do, ask the 911 operator, and they should be able to direct you on the best steps to take.
Where can I learn to use an AED?
If you’d like to become more comfortable with using an AED, or learn how to do CPR, you can contact your local hospital, American Red Cross, or the American Heart Association for guidance on finding first aid courses near you.