All the Basics about Automated External Defibrillators

When a patient develops ventricular fibrillation (VF), the heart stops pumping blood effectively, and severe damage may result because of that. An automated external defibrillator (AED) analyses the heart's electrical activity, decides whether the rhythm is VF or not and if so, delivers a shock to attempt to return the heart to a normal rhythm.

AEDs are designed for use by people with minimal or no medical training so that victims of a cardiac arrest who aren't already in the care of a physician can still have the chance to survive. At the same time, they're also designed to have a fail-safe to prevent the dosing of an incorrect shock.

How to Use an AED

Cardiac arrest patients should be placed on the floor, and if they're conscious, they should be positioned on their back. If they're not conscious, they should be placed on their side. One rescuer should put the AED on the victim and follow prompts on a screen. The AED will automatically analyse the victim's heart rhythm and determine what action to take.

If the AED determines that the heart rhythm is VF, the AED will ask the rescuer to select whether an adult or pediatric patient is being treated. VF is not a rare problem, so the AED is designed to work on adults and children alike. The AED will then ask the rescuer to apply the pads and press the shock button. The AED will take care of the rest.

When Do You Need to Use an AED?

AEDs can be used on children and adults, but they're most commonly used on adults and children who suddenly collapse. They're used to try to prevent deaths that are caused by sudden cardiac arrest.

The AED will only work on patients who are in cardiac arrest due to VF. They may be able to help if the victim has a different heart rhythm, but it isn't likely to be of much use in that situation. If you find someone who isn't breathing, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR, but stay near the person until help arrives.

Where to Find an AED

It's important that you learn how to correctly use an AED, but if you don't have one on hand during an emergency, you can find one nearby. The American Heart Association has an interactive database that allows you to search for the locations of AEDs in your community, and this information isn't limited to hospitals or other health care facilities. You can use the database to find AEDs wherever they're likely to be needed, so you don't have to worry about whether one will be nearby if you need it.

If you aren't sure whether or not you or someone you know is qualified to use an AED, or you simply want to be prepared in case of emergencies, make sure you learn the basics. It's easy to charge an AED, and it's incredibly simple to use it.


Learning the basics of AEDs can be a lifesaving skill for anyone to have, and you don't have to be an EMT or doctor to use one. By getting familiar with the technology, you can easily spot an AED, charge it, and use it in case of an emergency.

That said, the next time someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, you'll be ready. It's all about using it well and knowing how to live life to its fullest, for the people you love and for yourself.

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