Harvard Heart Letter

Defibrillators deliver the shock of a lifetime

The heart-shocking devices featured so prominently on ER and other television doctor-dramas can now be found in a growing number of airports, schools, malls, and other public places. They're also showing up in more and more private places — homes. These devices, called automated external defibrillators, are so easy to use that a child who has never seen one before can master its use in minutes. All the user needs to do is turn on the machine and place the pads on an unconscious person's chest. The machine checks the heart rhythm and, if it detects the kind of abnormality that can be converted with a shock, it tells the rescuer to press the shock button. To see how to use an automated external defibrillator, this YouTube video covers the basics. The first external defibrillators for home use could be bought only with a prescription and cost about $2,500. In 2006, you no longer need a prescription, and the cost is edging down toward $1,000.
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