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Should you use an AED on someone who is pregnant, elderly or fitted with a pacemaker?

Published on 10th December 2021

The importance of defibrillators in saving lives cannot be overstated, particularly given that over 523 million people worldwide are living with diagnosed heart conditions, and many more are undiagnosed. With the increased availability of AEDs, individuals and communities can have peace of mind knowing that they are better equipped to respond to unexpected cardiac arrests. In the event of sudden cardiac arrest, it’s important to employ an AED without hesitation to maximise the chances of survival.

There are, however some potential risks to be mindful of when employing an AED to save someone’s life – and although it is crucial to use an AED in a timely manner, these considerations ensure a swift response so that AED use will help, not harm, patients, suffering from sudden cardiac arrest.

In this blog, we’ve shared some key groups to be aware of when using a defibrillator – those fitted with a pacemaker, the elderly, and pregnant women.

Using an AED on people fitted with a pacemaker

A pacemaker is a small device that is fitted in the chest of a person with abnormal heart rhythm, to help the heart beat more regularly. Another type of similar device is an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD for short), which detects potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms and automatically delivers an electric shock to restore a normal heartbeat.

The good news is you can still use an AED on people fitted with a pacemaker or ICD. Where the person has an ICD, it should shock them back immediately meaning additional defibrillation isn’t required. However, if you are aware that the person has an ICD and suffers cardiac arrest an AED should still be used if the ICD does not revive them.

Signs someone is fitted with a pacemaker include a small bump in the left side of the chest under the collarbone, or a bump on the left side of the ribcage towards the back, covered by a scar. The most important thing to be aware of when employing an AED is time – rapid action is required to save a life during cardiac arrest, so don’t spend too long looking for a medical identification bracelet or evidence that a pacemaker is present before using it.

Using an AED on pregnant women

SCA doesn’t discriminate and sadly pregnant women can also be at risk for sudden cardiac arrest – so it’s important to know whether pregnancy impacts upon the potential success rate and use of a defibrillator, and if so, how an AED may be used safely to save lives.

It will often be apparent that a woman is pregnant – but not always. Fortunately, AEDs are safe to use on pregnant women – in fact, it’s crucial not to hesitate when deploying an AED as without rapid defibrillation an unborn baby will not be likely to survive.

There are a few specific steps to remember if you use an AED on a pregnant woman, including:

*Provide CPR in the first instance as you wait for the defibrillator to arrive, at 100-120 compressions per minute. If you are comfortable doing so, accompany chest compressions with rescue breaths
*Always notify the emergency services when dealing with sudden cardiac arrest, making sure to let them know that the woman in SCA is pregnant. This ensures they can send appropriate support and prepare to take the patient to a hospital that can provide specialist care for the woman and her unborn baby
*Once the pregnant patient has been revived, place her on her left side to help support blood flow to the heart and foetus

Using an AED on the elderly

Older people tend to be more at risk for sudden cardiac arrests, but is it safe to use an AED on an older person who appears to be frail or in poor general health?

The answer as above is to use an AED as quickly as possible in this circumstance, as without rapid intervention involving a defibrillator they are unlikely to survive SCA. Some considerations when using an AED on an elderly person include:

*Contact emergency services as soon as possible, letting them know that the person suffering SCA is elderly (along with any medical conditions you are immediately aware of)
*Begin manual chest compressions while waiting for the AED – as always, in an emergency the faster an AED can be sourced and deployed, the better
*Remember that cardiac arrest does often affect middle-aged and older people, so don’t hesitate to use one if needed

It is also worth noting that many elderly people who are vulnerable to SCA have already been fitted with an ICA – in these cases you can follow the guidance above for patients with pacemakers.

How to identify possible risk factors or complications when using AEDs

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to know whether a person is vulnerable due to an existing condition or medical situation, or in the earlier stages of pregnancy just through looking at them.

The most important thing to remember is to use AEDs quickly and confidently in all of the above situations – ensuring that additional steps are followed to maximise the safety and survival of a person in SCA.

Intelligent AEDs that only deliver a shock when needed

No training is required to effectively use an AED – this is one key aspect of their lifesaving ability. But through spreading awareness of how easy and safe AEDs are to use, we can avoid any potentially harmful hesitation that members of the public may naturally feel when dealing with a person who is elderly, pregnant or fitted with a pacemaker.

Our award-winning defibrillators automatically detect SCA through a series of sophisticated algorithms, and won’t deliver a shock if one is not needed. They’ve repeatedly been identified as the simplest on the market to use, providing reliable and trusted support when it matters most. This allows members of the public to use AEDs confidently and without hesitation – ultimately saving more lives.

For more on our award-winning range of defibrillators or advice on choosing an AED, visit our product pages or contact us today.