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Automated External Defibrillators

Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) are portable medical devices for shocking a heart back into normal rhythm, such as needed when someone suffers a cardiac arrest. They are becoming increasingly common in offices, planes, and even homes. A shock from the AED can correct improper heart rhythm (called ventricular fibrillation), which would otherwise be fatal in minutes.

Who Can Get an AED?

Generally, since AED's are medical devices regulated by the FDA, you need a doctor's prescription to buy one. The one exception is that the FDA has approved the HeartStart Home Defibrillator manufactured by Philips for home use (and not elsewhere). Other manufacturers may seek similar approvals to remain competitive.

What to Look For

AEDs are regulated by the FDA as medical devices. Consequently, there is no appreciable performance difference between vendors' models. Instead, the differences are in price, size, color, weight, ease of use and service and support. Look for these features:

  • If you are buying the unit for home use, see if the model you choose has been approved by the FDA for home use without a prescription; if not or if you are buying one for other uses, inquire of the seller how best to obtain a prescription.
  • The AED should sense the patient's heart rhythm and only shock when it detects a correctable arrhythmia. This prevents a shock that could do more harm than good.
  • A recorded (or computer generated) voice that tells you what to do step by step so that you don't have to be fumbling with an instruction booklet.

  • Uses biphasic shocks. This method has been found to be more beneficial because biphasic uses less power than older monophasic models (thus lowering the likelihood of damaging the heart muscle) and extends the battery life.

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