Not to be confused with a heart attack, suffering a cardiac arrest is perilous on its own, but not doing something about it is even worse. When it comes to sudden cardiac arrests (SCAs), the only approach that’s proven to save lives is using an AED, short for an automated external defibrillator.
By using defibrillators, the victim’s heart is shocked with electricity and temporarily put out of function. By doing that, the heart can restart and restore a normal rhythm. In a nutshell, the risk of not having an AED when needed can mean the difference between life and death, as plain and simple as that.
Continue reading as we elaborate in detail about the risks associated with the lack of AEDs when utterly needed.
What Is It That Makes AEDs So Important?
What happens when there is no AED at hand when you need it? You can only assume the risks and dangers the victim of an SCA is exposed to, from suffering brain damage to the most scary consequence of all — death.
The most straightforward reason AEDs are essential is the fact that they sort of fortify the Chain of Survival. Defibrillators restore a normal heartbeat in individuals suffering a sudden cardiac arrest. It can happen to anyone and at any place, no matter how young or old they are or how healthy they feel.
Today, SCAs are more common than ever and are the leading cause of 350,000 deaths in Americans each year. In fact, when a person suffers an SCA, their survival odds decrease from 7% to 10% with every second passed without using an AED.
When a person loses consciousness due to SCA, instincts prevail. Bystanders that find themselves on the scene first check for a pulse and see whether the person is breathing. If there is no AED at hand, chances are, the victim might not make it to the hospital.
The initial seconds after an SCA are crucial — if the heart isn’t shocked immediately, it will stop functioning, which roughly translates to death. In short, AEDs save lives!
What Can Happen If There Is No AED at Hand?
Even though the lack of an AED can lead to a number of health risks, still, the main one that shakes us to our core is death. Imagine what would happen if emergency rooms or hospitals had no defibrillators.
When there’s no AED nearby, and someone suffers an SCA, they are at risk of suffering further complications involving the heart, the brain, and other vital organs. Some of the complications include issues with consciousness, deficits in neurocognitive functions, and deteriorating neurological functions.
The Victim Can Suffer from Deteriorating Neurological Functions
The brain is the first organ to suffer after a sudden cardiac arrest if an AED isn’t used as soon as possible. The brain’s normal functions will start deteriorating with every passing second an AED isn’t used.
When suffering a cardiac arrest, it isn’t uncommon for subarachnoidal hemorrhage to occur. Even though this occurrence is mainly due to injury to the brain, it can still happen during SCA if the heart isn’t shocked right away using an AED.
Other neurological dysfunctions include the following examples:
- Epileptic seizures
- Intracerebral hemorrhage
- Myoclonus status epilepticus
- Ischemic stroke and other conditions
Oftentimes, these dangerous health conditions can be irrevocable, i.e., permanent.
The Victim Can Suffer from Deficits in Neurocognitive Functions
When the brain is affected, the outcome is visible as physical or functional impediments. In other words, if a victim suffers brain damage during a sudden cardiac arrest, they might also lose bodily functions that are crucial for daily activities.
When we mention physical or functional impediments, we mainly think of restrictions in typical day-to-day activities like putting on clothes, showering, and conversing with people. Moreover, some of the most commonly occurring neurocognitive impediments become noticeable as the lack of balance, incapacitated concentration abilities, trouble making decisions, and so on.
With an AED at hand, these life threatening occurrences can be successfully bypassed.
The Victim Can Suffer from Issues with Consciousness
Consciousness disorders are fairly common in victims of sudden cardiac arrest. Not treating an SCA with a defibrillator can mean affecting the person’s ability to stay conscious and functioning.
On the other hand, if a victim of an SCA is shocked with an AED within the first few seconds of the occurrence, they will remain unconscious for less, which is paramount to the normal function of the brain.
Experts link consciousness issues to brain damage, which can, in turn, be the result of a poorly managed SCA case.
The Victim Can Suffer from Loss of Memory
The more the victim of an SCA remains unconscious, the greater the odds for memory loss and speech impediments. In other words, if an SCA victim isn’t treated with an AED, they are likely not to remember a lot of what happened and can have trouble talking.
Sudden cardiac arrests are proven to interfere with short-term memory, mainly because of the shortness of oxygen and blood to the brain. This severe health condition can be averted if the person suffering an SCA finds themselves in a hospital and emergency response is immediate.
Where Can AEDs Be Of Most Use?
Having unrestricted access to an AED is paramount, especially considering the staggering occurrence of SDAs in every age group. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), bystanders can greatly improve the survival chances of SCA victims if they have access to AEDs and shock the victim’s heart before emergency responders arrive.
Even though having an AED on site isn’t mandatory in all states in the U.S., some have taken on the responsibility to mandate schools and public places install AEDs in plain sight. For everyone to reach and use.
Workplaces are one of those public places that see a lot of foot traffic, so it’s only logical to assume that a health condition can strike anyone out of the blue. With SCAs being so common nowadays, the workplace is a good place to have an AED at.
If you’re a cardiac patient, your doctor has probably explained the ins and outs of the condition you suffer from. If your condition requires heart monitors or other devices, your doctor can write up a prescription so you can purchase an AED for your home.
Even though most insurance policies don’t cover AEDs, if your doctor says you need one, Medicaid or Medicare will pay for it.
Unfortunately, our youth is not spared from sudden cardiac arrests. In fact, student-athletes are prone to experiencing sudden cardiac arrests, which makes the need for an AED in schools that much more important.
The gym, the grocery store, the building elevator, the pool, the mall…any public space should have an AED installed in plain sight that’s easily spotted and reached.
Imagine finding yourself at the metro station — the place is packed with people rushing back and forth — and you see the person near you suddenly drop to the ground. You kneel down and check for a pulse, but there is none.
What now?! If there is a public-access AED, you grab it, place the pads on the victim’s bare chest and turn on the device. You deliver a shock and see the victim’s heartbeat restored.
Who Will Suffer the Most If There’s No AED at Hand?
To put it plainly, everyone you can think of. All of us are at risk of suffering major health consequences and even losing our lives during sudden cardiac arrests if there is no AED nearby.
In all fairness, there are certain categories of people that simply can’t afford not to be treated with an AED during an SCA, such as:
- Infants and young children under the care of babysitters;
- Children and infants in kindergartens and daycare centers;
- Children and staff in boarding schools;
- Flight attendants;
- Residents in nursing homes, etc.
Key Takeaway: The Risks of Not Having an AED When Needed
With everything elaborated on so far, we hope we have made clear the utter importance of accessible automated external defibrillators.
Other than the ultimate reason to save lives, AEDs can also keep a person’s quality of life intact by restoring a heartbeat faster. That way, an SCA victim will regain consciousness and stay alive until transported to a hospital for further treatment.
If we way out the pros and cons of having an AED readily available, the pros would be many, and the cons will be none.