What is an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)?

Defining the life-saving device


An AED is a portable FDA-cleared public-access device designed to treat sudden cardiac arrest. All AEDs use visual and voice prompts to walk a rescuer through a sudden cardiac arrest event, regardless of the rescuer’s level of training or experience. It is the ONLY treatment for sudden cardiac arrest. While different makes and models have varying features, all AEDs do what they are designed to do – save lives!

An AED is designed to be simple to operate. At a very basic level, when you come across someone in sudden cardiac arrest, you retrieve the AED, turn it on, and follow the verbal instructions. Once turned on and connected to the patient, the AED performs the first step of analyzing the patient’s heart rhythm to determine if one of the two heart rhythms it can treat are present. The two heart rhythms the AED looks for are ventricular fibrillation (chaotic, quivering of the heart, also called v-fib) and ventricular tachycardia (life-threatening rapid heartbeat, also called v-tach). If the AED identifies one of these two rhythms, it will instruct the rescuer a shock is advised and charge the AED. When the shock is administered, either automatically by the AED (in a fully-automatic AED) or after the rescuer pushes the shock button when instructed by the AED (in a semi-automatic AED), an effective electrical charge will flow between the electrode pads on the patient’s chest and into the patient’s heart. This electric shock stops the chaotic rhythm and then because the heart has its own built-in pacemakers, the heart will start to beat on its own.

AEDs are safe. Rest assured you cannot accidentally shock someone with an AED. The AED is continually monitoring a patient’s heart rhythm and if it detects a “shockable” rhythm, it will advise a shock. Between advising the shock and the shock being administered, if the AED no longer detects a shockable rhythm, it will not shock the patient – no matter how many times you press the shock button.

Anyone can use an AED. If a child can follow the directions, they can effectively deploy an AED. It requires no strength or stamina, and one does NOT have to be a medical professional to use an AED!

For a comprehensive walk-through of AED prompts, see AED Superstore’s Ultimate AED Buyer’s Guide.

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