Action Against Child Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest causes about 250,000 deaths annually, including 7,000 deaths in children.

Now a new recommendation from the American Heart Association says that automatic external defibrillators (AED) are safe to use on children as well as adults to save lives.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says cardiac arrest is often cause by an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, and in many cases a jolt of electricity from a defibrillator can shock the heart back into a regular rhythm again.

Many studies have shown that a portable automatic defibrillator can save lives in the crucial minutes before an ambulance arrives. The American Heart Association say the defibrillator can be used on children, from the age of one-years-old to eight-years-old, when CPR isn't working.

Special training is needed to use a portable automatic defibrillator, says Senay. A person should also be trained in CPR. The device is easy to use. Adhesive electrode pads are put on a victim's chest, and the device automatically detects the heart rhythm and determines whether a shock is needed.

Senay says the device takes you through the process and prompts when to deliver a shock. It will not deliver a shock unless it detects a situation where it's appropriate. For kids, the special pediatric electrodes reduce the energy from the AED to appropriate levels to use on infants and children under eight. For a child, the device first uses a small shock and then gradually increases the voltage if the smaller shocks do not work.

The devices should not be used on children under the age of one, and should be only used after trying CPR first, Senay says.

An adult defibrillator can be used on a child, according to Senay, but it's preferable to use the pediatric model if it's available. She says there is a risk of an adverse effect if the adult model is used on a child. But, Senay explains, it is worse not to use one at all because the child may die.

Sudden cardiac arrest can occur at any age, although it is more common in adults. It can occur even if the child has no heart defects or disease. Kids are also at risk from sports injuries if they suffer a particular type of sudden cardiac arrest caused by blunt trauma to the chest.

Senay says AEDs are not available everywhere yet, but a growing number of school districts across the country have a program that includes AEDs in their schools. Some states already have legislation mandating AEDs in their schools.