What is an AED and How to use One?

What is an AED and How to use OneIf someone has a heart attack, how quickly they receive help can make the difference between life and death. In the past, the only way a friend or family member could help someone who was having a heart attack was by administering 911 until medical help could arrive.

The problem with CPR is that it’s easy to do it wrong, and not everyone has the necessary training. Today, we have devices called automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) that can actually improve your chances of survival, without having to rely on CPR.

What is an AED?

Have you ever seen a hospital show where someone goes into cardiac arrest and they have to drag out these huge electric paddles, set the voltage, and shock the patient back to life? That is an external defibrillator. An automatic external defibrillator is similar except the machine sets the voltage; some AED brands will even administer the shocks for you. The AED is designed so that non-professionals can administer life-saving care in the home, or in a public setting, like the mall.

How an AED Works:

When someone has a heart attack, the heart doesn’t always completely stop beating. Sometimes it goes into something called fibrillation, where it quivers instead of beating. An AED delivers an electric shock, straight to the heart, which de-fibrillates the heart and restores it to a healthy rhythm.

The AED can actually detect if the heart is in fibrillation and, if so, deliver the necessary shock. If the heart does not respond to the first shock, the AED will adjust itself and administer another shock until the heart responds or it has delivered the maximum number of shocks.

The AED will only work on a heart that is in fibrillation. It will not work if the person has a normal heart beat, or if the pads cannot detect a heartbeat at all, so that one scene in Breaking Bad totally couldn’t happen in real life.

How to use an AED:

The steps for using the AED are very simple and should be printed on the device. However we can also provide basic instructions here, to give you an idea of the sequence of events.

If someone is having a heart attack:

  1. Call 911 to make sure emergency personnel are on the way. If possible have someone else make the all while you grab the AED. That way they can stay on the line and you can focus on using the device. If you are alone, stay on the line with 911 while you use the AED, unless they tell you to hang up.
  2. Carefully roll the person onto his back, if he is not there already. Be sure to support his head and neck to reduce the risk of injury;
  3. Open the shirt to expose the chest. If necessary, cut the shirt open and cut open the bra;
  4. Open the AED and follow the instructions for placing the pads on the chest. If the person has a lot of chest hair, use the disposable razor included with the AED to remove the hair before placing the pads;
  5. Turn on the AED and let it detect the heart rhythm;
  6. The AED will alert you if it needs to deliver shocks and give you prompts on what to do.

Do not use the AED on people who have pacemakers or defibrillator implants. Avoid placing the pads directly onto metal piercings. Do not use an AED on an infant unless it is designed for that purpose. Instead you should perform infant CPR until help arrives.

Editorial Team
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  1. Sandy says:

    Anyone can learn how to use an AED. I’ve been CPR and First Aid certified since I was 9 years old (that’s a long time!) and AED is now part of my employer’s First Aid training. It is step-by-step instructions that, even if you’ve never touched one before, can learn how to do just by following the guidance of the machine. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and get certified. Life is precious!