Defibrillator Myths

July 4, 2022

Demystifying Defibrillator Myths

As members of the public rarely get any exposure to defibrillators (AEDs), it is easy to see how there is a degree of uncertainty.

Thanks to TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Doctor, most people think of defibrillators as complex, powerful contraptions that can be only operated by highly experience medical personnel.

Depictions of unresponsive patients jerking their whole bodies violently as paramedics apply a defibrillator pad to the chest are all that most people have to go by when visualising AEDs and defibrillation. In reality, however, these scenes are highly overdramatised.

Unfortunately, most peoples first encounter with a defibrillator will be during an emergency. Witnessing a friend, co-worker or even just a stranger in this situation causes a lot of stress and panic.

While defibrillators are designed to be easy to use, a rescue is never simple for the rescuer. Helping to save someone’s life requires not only the right equipment and skills, but also the presence of mind to stay calm and focused. So here are some of the most common myths about AEDs that need to be debunked.

Myth #1: It’s easy to hurt someone with an AED

False. Contrary to popular misconception, AEDs are highly unlikely to harm the patient or the rescuer during use. An AED analysis the patient's heart rhythm and only delivers a ‘shock’ if one is needed.

Myth #2: ONLY highly trained medical professionals can use a defibrillator

False. The notion that only medical professionals can use AEDs is false. AEDs have been designed to be used by the general community without formal training and are equipped with verbal and visual instructions to guide the operator. The Australian Resuscitation Council state that anyone can use an AED and that it should not be restricted to trained personnel.

Myth #3: AEDs can only be used once

False. This is another common misconception. AEDs do not have an expiry date and can be used again and again provided that the electrode pads and battery have been replaced after each use, in line with the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Myth #4: If the patient has a pacemaker, you should not use the defibrillator

False. A defibrillator should still be used on a patient even if they have a pacemaker. However, the top right electrode pad must be placed slightly away from the scar of the pacemaker (a few centimeters closer to the patient’s arm).

Myth #5: A defibrillator will restart someone’s heart that has flatlined

False. Most cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest are due to an abnormality of the heart's electrical rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT). Defibrillation is the use of a controlled electric shock that stops the chaotic rhythm of VF/VT and allows the normal, organized, electrical rhythm of the heart to return. If a patient’s heart has flatlined, there is no electrical activity to reset. CPR should be continued until emergency services arrive.

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