Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are the best — and often last — hope for people who collapse when their hearts lapse into a fast, irregular, and deadly heartbeat known as ventricular fibrillation. These shock-delivering devices are becoming a standard fixture in airports, malls, casinos, office buildings, and other public places. They are so easy to use, and the directions on them are so clear and straightforward, that school kids can learn to use them.
Yet when Dutch researchers asked 1,000 adults if they would use an AED if they saw someone suddenly collapse without a pulse, 53% said no. The most common reasons for declining to use an AED were not knowing how it works (69%) and worries about hurting the victim (14%).
Minutes matter when the heart veers into ventricular fibrillation and stops pumping blood. After five seconds without circulation, a person passes out. In another few seconds, the lack of oxygen in the brain causes nerves to start firing, making the muscles twitch and the eyes roll back. That activity stops in less than a minute.
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