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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a heart attack?
A heart attack occurs when the heart does not get enough blood flow, leading to the death of the heart muscle. This is also known as myocardial infarction.

What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heartbeat stops suddenly and unexpectedly. It is caused by life-threatening abnormalities in the heart’s electrical system.

What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?
A heart attack is often preceded by chest, arm, upper abdomen or jaw pain. Nausea and sweating are common. There is rarely a warning before a cardiac arrest.

Heart attack patients usually remain conscious – cardiac arrest patients always lose consciousness.

What happens when someone has a cardiac arrest?
The victim first loses his or her pulse, then consciousness and finally the ability to breathe. Without immediate treatment, the victim almost always dies.

What is ventricular fibrillation?
Ventricular fibrillation is the most common cause of cardiac arrest. It is a rapid, chaotic, lethal rhythm of the heart. In this condition the heart is unable to contract and therefore unable to pump blood to the brain and other vital organs.

What is defibrillation?
Defibrillation is a controlled electrical shock, which may restore an organised rhythm to the heart to enable it to contract and pump blood.

Why is early defibrillation so important?
Death from ventricular fibrillation occurs within minutes. Time is critical and defibrillation is the only effective treatment.

For every minute without defibrillation, the odds of survival drop 7 – 10 per cent. The sooner the shock is provided the greater the chance of survival for the victim.

A cardiac arrest victim who isn’t defibrillated within 8-10 minutes has virtually no chance of survival.

What is an Automated External Defibrillator?
An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is a computerised medical device. Two adhesive electrode pads are attached to the bare chest and a microprocessor inside the defibrillator automatically analyses the patient’s heart rhythm and advises the rescuer when a shock is needed. The AED uses voice prompts, lights and text messages to tell the user what steps to take. AEDs are extremely safe, accurate and easy to use.

If AEDs are so easy to use, why do people need formal training in how to use them?
An AED operator must know how to recognise the signs of a sudden cardiac arrest, when to activate the EMS system and how to do CPR. It is also important for operators to receive formal training on the AED model they will use so they become familiar with the device and are able to successfully operate it in an emergency.

Who can use an AED?
Anyone, even children 11 years of age and up can be trained to use an AED.

Are all AEDs the Same?
While all AEDs are designed to defibrillate, they vary in the capabilities of their waveform technology (i.e. the “therapy” itself), rhythm recognition, ease of use, safety, weight, and manufacturer's support.

Are there limits regarding who the AED can be used on?
Typically, children over 55 lbs (25 kg) or 8 years of age are defibrillated as adults. AED defibrillation can be used for infants and children as long as the appropriate pads are used.

Does the AED take the place of CPR?
No. The AED is part of CPR. For best chance of survival you must use the two tools together.

Can I hurt someone with an AED?
No. A victim of Sudden Cardiac Arrest is essentially dead. Early defibrillation represents the patient’s only chance for survival. AEDs will not shock someone who does not need to be shocked. It’s that simple.

What about using an AED on metal or wet surfaces?
Always check with the manufacturer, but most AEDs because they are self grounded, can be safely used in wet environments and on metal surfaces with no risk to the victim or rescuer.

What other treatments are effective for cardiac arrest?
Electrical defibrillation is well established as the only effective therapy for cardiac arrest due to ventricular fibrillation. The scientific evidence to support early defibrillation is overwhelming, the single most important determinant of survival being the delay from collapse to delivery of the first shock. The chances of successful defibrillation decline at a rate of 7 – 10% with each minute; basic life support will help to sustain a shockable rhythm, but is not a definitive treatment.

What makes a victim suitable for defibrillation?
Any victim who is at least eight years old, unconscious, is not breathing and has no signs of circulation, is potentially suitable, but only the heart that is fibrillating is likely to respond. As soon as the defibrillator is available it should be attached to the victim and the rescuer will be prompted if a shock is advised.

What is the ‘Chain of Survival’ concept?
The chances of survival following cardiac arrest are considerably improved if appropriate steps are taken to deal with the emergency. These are:

Early Access – early access to the patient

Early CPR – promptly giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation when needed

Early Defibrillation – prompt treatment by a trained person with appropriate equipment

How long should it take to train people to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)?
For someone with no prior experience or knowledge it is likely that a minimum of 4 hours training will be required to cover the core competencies.

How often should people be retrained?
Repeated refresher courses are essential, and experience has demonstrated that retraining at intervals of 6 months is effective.

Is there any government legislation or recommendations that employers should have AEDs?
Employers have a legal duty under The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to enable first aid to be given to employees if they are injured or become ill at work.

There is no legal requirement for employers to provide defibrillators in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive’s syllabus of first aid training for offshore installations does include the use of defibrillators, but at present this is not extended to onshore first aid. The use of AEDs is under consideration by the HSE for inclusion in all First Aid at Work courses when the regulations are next revised.

The existing First Aid at Work regulations do not, however, prevent an employer from providing defibrillators, either for the benefit of their employees of for the general public.

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