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By: Dr. Thomas Carrigan
Sudden Cardiac Death has been identified as a public health issue affecting adults and children – including athletes. It causes more than 300,000 deaths a year in the United States, making it the largest cause of natural death in this country.
Heightened awareness and public discussion can only be a good thing.
Sudden Cardiac Death is an electrical problem of the heart resulting in an instantaneous loss of blood flow to the body from unorganized electrical activity. This manifests as a sudden loss of consciousness. Whereas, a heart attack can be considered a plumbing problem when blood vessels supplying the heart muscle with oxygen are suddenly blocked.
The definitive treatment for each condition is different.
It is with this context that we talk about the value of an automatic external defibrillator (AED). This portable device checks a person’s heart rhythm and delivers a shock when the rhythm is abnormal or absent. It can, in some cases, prevent Sudden Cardiac Death.
Companies, organizations and events are purchasing these to have on hand for emergency situations. There is even an FDA-approved version of the device for home/individual use.
Just recently, as reported in the local newspapers, a Northern Kentucky man’s life was saved when his company purchased an AED that arrived the morning he went into cardiac arrest. Even though the staff was not yet trained, co-workers managed to save this man’s life.
In March, a professional hockey player collapsed during a National Hockey League game and may have been saved because an AED was on site and administered quickly. That is not the first example of a pro athlete being saved by the presence of an AED; it’s only the most recent.
The most effective therapy for ventricular fibrillation (VF) – a fatal arrhythmia that frequently causes sudden death – is external electrical defibrillation, which can restore normal rhythm. The key to success is directly linked to how quickly the shock is administered.
The chance of survival decreases by 7 to 10 percent for every minute that passes after VF occurs. Public access defibrillation programs with training in CPR and AEDs have strong evidence to support their implementation in the public setting.
Two things to keep in mind:
- Although the devices are publicly available, it is important that appropriately trained individuals operate them.
- It is also important not to overlook the routine upkeep of the AED to ensure it will be functioning properly when used.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that large businesses or corporations purchase a portable AED to keep on site. It is advised for schools, athletic events (at arenas, stadiums), airports, concert venues, festivals. The list could go on and on.
If you don’t have an AED at your site, look into it. It might save a life.
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