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Saving lives with an AED

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Saving lives with an automated external defibrillator (AED)

An automated external defibrillator is a device used to deliver an electric shock to the heart through the chest wall. The AED has in-built computers that assess the rhythm of a person's heart. It then determines if the defibrillator is needed, and it then delivers a shock if needed. There is an audible and/or visual prompt to guide the user through the process.

In the world, cardiac arrest is one of the leading causes of death. Cardiac arrest is when the heart just stops beating suddenly. After a person suffers cardiac arrest and a call is made to 911, it might still take an estimate of 4 to 10 minutes before the emergency medical services will arrive. By this time, the person's condition might have become fatal. If it is not treated within minutes of the occurrence, the person usually dies as there is no longer pumping blood to their brain and other parts of their body. According to the sudden cardiac arrest foundation, there are over 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) yearly in the United States, and close to 90% of them are fatal. This high rate of fatality is because there is no immediate medical response. Still, suppose a bystander can intervene by giving the person CPR and using an automated external defibrillator. In that case, it can help double or even triple the person's chances of survival.

In a sudden cardiac arrest, an AED is the most effective way to treat the person and restore their heart to a regular beating pattern. The AED contains a microprocessor that helps it interpret or analyze the person's heart rhythm using adhesive electrodes. There are some AED models where you will be required to press a button labeled "ANALYZE." The computer will then analyze the heart's rhythm and advise the operator if a shock is needed or not. AEDs advise administering a shock to only fast ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, and the electric current delivered to the person's heart through their chest wall is delivered through adhesive electrode pads.

After analyzing a person's heart rhythm and recognizing that a shock is required, the AED advises the rescuer to take the necessary actions via voice prompts, text messages, and light. They are very accurate and easy to use. With just some hours of training, anyone can learn how to operate and use an AED safely, and although there are many different AED brands, they all have the same basic steps, with most of them being similar in appearance but different in design and color. AEDs are designed with the layperson in mind. They are made for non-medical personnel such as flight attendants, security guards, police, and other lay rescuers who have had the proper training to use them.

If more people could respond to a medical emergency by providing defibrillation, this would greatly increase the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. There was research carried out by a team led by Dr. Myron Weisfeldt of John Hopkins University exploring if a significant portion of lives would be saved if bystanders used AEDs before the arrival of emergency medical services. Their analysis showed a greater likelihood of survival (67%) when a bystander used an AED instead of waiting for the emergency medical services to arrive and shock the person's heart (43%). People were also likely to survive cardiac arrest with a minimal disability, with 57% for the bystander AED and 33% for the AED used by emergency medical services. The more time that went by before the arrival of emergency medical service, the greater the benefit of a bystander using an AED.

When there is an AED available to help someone in an emergency, then the steps as outlined by the National Safety Council for a trained person to follow include:

  • The rescuer should position the victim away from metal and water and then place the AED close to the victim's shoulder and turn it on.

  • Open the victim's chest, and shave or dry the electrode pad area if possible. An AED kit should contain a razor.

  • Follow the placement diagram and apply the pads to the chest of the victim. Make sure you check the cables if they are plugged into the unit.

  • Make sure that in the process of rhythm analysis, you and other bystanders are clear of the victim.

  • Adhere to the prompts from the AED, which will be either to press the shock button if a shock is required or for you to start administering CPR immediately with the shock pads in place, beginning with chest compressions.

  • Again, ensure that everyone is standing clear of the victim for rhythm analysis.

  • Continue the 5th and 6th steps until the victim moves or the arrival of professional rescuers on the scene to take over from you.

  • If the victim moves, check if they are breathing. If a victim is breathing but unresponsive, place them in the recovery position:

  • Extend the victim's arm over their head and then position their other arm across their chest.

  • Bend their leg at the knee.

  • Place your forearm under the shoulder of the victim with your hand under the hollow of their neck.

  • Roll the victim away from you carefully. Push them on the flexed knee and lift them using your forearm while your hand stabilizes the neck and head.

  • Check the person's airway once they are in position and open their mouth to allow for drainage.

It is recommended by the council that every workplace should at least have one individual who is trained in CPR and the use of AED.


When someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, their chances of survival are decreased by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without defibrillation. AEDs are important because they increase a person's chances of survival.

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