Demystifying Four Common AED Myths
Updated: Mar 30
Thanks to TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med, most people think of defibrillators as complex, powerful contraptions that can only be operated by highly trained medical personnel.
Depictions of unresponsive patients jerking their whole bodies violently as medics apply a defibrillator's pads to their chests are all that most people have to go by when visualizing AEDs and defibrillation. In reality, however, these scenes are highly overdramatized. While the gravity of SCA cases is just as pressing, defibrillators, especially AEDs are not nearly as complex or complicated as these TV shows imply. These are some myths about AEDs that need to be debunked:
Myth #1: It's Easy to Hurt Someone with an AED
Contrary to popular misconception, AEDs are highly unlikely to harm the victim or operator during use. AEDs analyze the patient's echocardiogram (ECG) and only deliver a "shock" if one is needed. Just abnormal heart rhythms, in which the patient's heart isn't correctly pumping blood, can be "shocked" (defibrillated). Without detecting these rhythms, the device will not charge or deliver a shock, thereby preempting accidental or erroneous defibrillation.
Additionally, AEDs are designed to minimize accidental contact of electrodes or improper pad placement on a victim’s chest, and they offer extensive audio (sometimes audio and visual) instructions to guide the rescuer through the whole life-saving process.
Myth #2: ONLY Highly-trained Medical Professionals Should Use AEDs
The notion that only medical professionals can use AEDs is false. AEDs are designed for use by the general public with simple training.
Enabling bystanders and the lay-public to use AEDs is at the core of public access defibrillation campaigns that seek to increase the number of AEDs available in public places. AEDs are designed deliberately to be easy to use by including minimal buttons, and sufficient voice prompts.
While training is still important, you don't need a medical license to be a lifesaver.
Myth #3: AEDs are ONLY Required for People Who Have Heart Attacks
Sudden cardiac arrest and heart attacks are very different medical emergencies. Heart attacks, a "plumbing problem," can lead to SCA, but not the other way around. SCA, an "electrical problem," often occurs in people who appear otherwise fit and healthy. SCA, by definition, is "sudden," whereas it's common for heart attack victims to experience warning signs like chest pain.
The need for an AED at a facility is therefore not dependent on a history of health problems. Instead, public spaces such as sports clubs, casinos, and schools with high human traffic should have at least one AED. Read more about how AEDs in these types of locations can reduce the time-to-defibrillation (and save lives) here.
The difference between SCA and heart attacks is important to understand because it's common for the general public to mistakenly associate the use of AEDs only with people who experience heart attacks, and heart attack victims may make unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Myth #4: Having One AED Locked Away is Properly Protecting the Location it Serves
The key to public access defibrillation is unfettered and indiscriminate access to AEDs. Just like with fire extinguishers, it makes little sense to have an AED installed at a facility if it is not accessible when needed most.
There are quite a few anecdotes of people dying of cardiac arrest while waiting for defibrillation despite there being an AED nearby, often because it was locked away.
A patient in cardiac arrest typically dies within minutes, so every moment that witnesses spend trying to locate the AED decrease the victim's chances of survival. Well-run AED programs should place AEDs in a publicly accessible and visible location where it is easy to grab within seconds of a victim's collapse!
AEDs are highly safe devices that anyone with simple training is capable of using correctly.
Now that you know how easy AEDs are to use, the difference between heart attacks and SCA, and how safe and effective AEDs are for those in need, take a CPR/AED training course and consider equipping your facility with this critical, life-saving technology.