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Lay People Can Use AEDs to Save Cardiac Arrest Victims
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 11, 2004 -- You could save the life of a cardiac arrest victim -- if an AED were nearby.

Every year, 350,000 to 450,000 Americans -- many with no obvious sign of heart disease -- have a sudden cardiac arrest. In cardiac arrests that occur outside of the hospital, as few as two out of 100 survive. AEDs -- automated external defibrillators -- could save many of these lives. The device gives a lifesaving electric shock to the chest of a person who has collapsed from cardiac arrest. Without the shock, nearly all such people would die.

AEDs are automated -- to the point of giving verbal instructions a sixth-grader could understand -- but they still need human help. Somebody has to see the victim collapse. That person has to understand that the victim needs help. And that person has to grab an AED -- fast. Every minute that passes cuts the victim's chance of survival by 10%.

Can real people use AEDs in a real emergency? Yes, if they are trained to use the devices, a real-world study shows. The huge Public Access Defibrillation study involved more than 19,000 volunteers from 993 community sites in the U.S. and Canada.

"We envisioned this trial as bridge, as a first practical step in addressing whether lay people could use these devices safely and effectively to save lives," study leader Joseph P. Ornato, MD, tells WebMD. "What we did was to find a large number of public locations where we identified lay potential rescuers who were not public safety personnel. They were merchants, senior citizens, doormen, and employees who work in hotels. We really wanted to test the concept, using a control group, randomly assigned, to find out whether adding AED to a lay first responder team could lead to more survivors of cardiac arrest." Ornato leads the department of emergency medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in Richmond.

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