Automated external defibrillators (AEDs)

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are electronic devices used to restart a person's heart if it has stopped beating. AEDs can help save lives.

This document talks about AEDs used in public areas.

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Cardiac arrest and automated external defibrillators

Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating properly. When this happens, the heart needs to be shocked into beating properly again. This procedure is called defibrillation.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, as many as 45,000 Canadians experience a sudden cardiac arrest each year. Early access to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation (1 to 3 minutes after cardiac arrest) is vital. These actions may increase the chance of survival by 75% or more.

AEDs are small portable machines that:

  • analyze the person's heart rhythm
  • determine whether a shock is needed
  • use voice or screen prompts to guide the rescuer through the process

AEDs are being installed across the country in public locations including:

  • hockey arenas
  • recreational facilities

Choosing an automated external defibrillator

While all AEDs deliver an electrical shock to the heart, not all are identical. AEDs can:

  • have semi-automatic (a shock button) or automatic features (deliver the shock without someone initiating it)
  • provide 'coaching' to guide users on giving effective CPR breathing and compressions
  • be sold with pads (electrodes) for use on children under 8 years old or under 25 kg

Proper maintenance and storage

Most AEDs have built-in self-test procedures, but some can also be checked manually. Always refer to the user manual for the device. Also, someone should be responsible for checking the device and battery regularly. If service prompts are not dealt with immediately, the AED may not be ready in an emergency.

Store batteries, pads, disposable razors (for removal of chest hair) and other accessories in a safe, accessible place. Some of these items, such as pads and razors, should be replaced after they are used once.

AEDS should also be stored properly. Guidelines can be found in the manual.

Reduce your risk

AEDs should be checked regularly in case of an emergency.

  • Address service issues that arise from voice or visual prompts or a self-test. Contact the manufacturer when it warns you that servicing is needed.
  • Follow the manual's recommended maintenance and testing schedule and directions carefully. Maintenance will include
    • verifying the AED's status
    • checking the pad and accessories
    • checking batteries
    • cleaning
  • Some manufacturers provide checklists. Create a maintenance checklist and schedule if your manual does not have one.
  • Always have at least 1 spare battery available. Check the manual for how often you need to change batteries. This applies to rechargeable batteries too. They can lose their energy, even when not in use.

The manuals for AEDs generally recommend specific training for their particular device. Some organizations (St. John's Ambulance, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Red Cross) offer CPR courses that include how to use AEDs.

Device packaging and pads may also be different. Some AEDs require completely different pediatric pads. For others, you need to insert a pediatric "key" when treating a pediatric patient.

Government of Canada's role

The Government of Canada (GC) is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians.

All medical devices imported into and sold in Canada, including AEDs, are regulated and problems with any products are monitored. The GC works with manufacturers to fix problems that have been identified. Canadians are encouraged to report problems involving AEDs and other medical devices or call 1-800-267-9675.

To help fight heart disease, almost $10 million was spent to place AEDs in hockey arenas and recreational facilities in Canada. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada was working with us on this project. Visit the PHAC National Automated External Defibrillator Initiative for results of the program.

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