According to a Japanese study published in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, having widespread access to public automated external defibrillators (AEDs) raises the chances of surviving a heart attack with little neurological damage The study found that 31.6 percent of people who were given a shock from a public-access AED after suffering cardiac arrest from an irregular heart rhythm survived with minimal brain damage compared to just 14 percent who were not shocked.  People given bystander-initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) also had better outcomes.

An automated external defibrillator is a computerized medical device that checks a person's heart rhythm and advises the user when a shock is needed and describes how to perform the shock through a series of prompts, lights and text messages.

According to the study, as availability of AEDs rose, so did the use of public access AEDs, increasing from 1.2 percent at the beginning of the three-year study to 6.2 percent at the end. Plus, the average time before a person suffering from cardiac arrest received a defibrillator shock decreased from 3.7 minutes to 2.2 minutes and the number of people surviving with minimal neurological damage rose from 2.4 to 8.9 people per 10 million.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advocates the availability of AEDs in targeted public areas such as sports arenas, gated communities, office complexes, doctor's offices and shopping malls.

Know the Signs of Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart abruptly and without warning stops working, preventing blood from being pumped to the rest of the body. Because death can occur within minutes of a person suffering from cardiac arrest-95 percent of cardiac arrest victims die before reaching the hospital-it's imperative that the victim be given help immediately. In cities where defibrillation is provided within five to seven minutes, survival from cardiac arrest increases as much as between 30 percent and 45 percent. Here are the recommendations from the AHA on how to help a person suffering from cardiac arrest:

  • Know the warning signs. During cardiac arrest the person loses consciousness, stops normal breathing and loses pulse and blood pressure
  • Call 911 immediately
  • Use an AED, if one is available, and then perform CPR-both chest compression and ventilation-to help keep the victim alive until emergency help arrives