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Automatic external defibrillators can save lives

The risk-benefit balance of automatic external defibrillators is favourable when they are used properly by trained people who follow correct procedures.

Faced with cardio-respiratory arrest occurring outside a hospital, the correct procedure is as follows: first, call for professional help; quickly implement survival procedures, especially external thoracic compression (cardiac massage), combined or not with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If the diagnosis is circulatory arrest precipitated by ventricular fibrillation, defibrillation by external electric shock should be considered. The sooner the survival procedure is implemented, the higher the chance of survival. Studies show that the use of automatic external defibrillators by people trained to use them reduces mortality.

In the case of cardio-respiratory arrest precipitated by ventricular fibrillation (arrhythmia), external defibrillators perform an automated analysis of the heart’s electrical activity and deliver an electric shock.

These devices are simple to use and require less than one hour of training. Adverse effects are rare and generally mild: mainly skin burns on the victim, risk of electric shock to the users, and risk of equipment failure.

The increasing availability of automated external defibrillators in public places helps increase the chances of survival for victims of cardio-respiratory arrest. Training in their correct use helps increase their effectiveness.

©Prescrire June 2010

"Automated external defibrillation by first-responders" Prescrire Int 2010; 19 (107): 126-130 (pdf, subscribers only).

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