Monday, September 2, 2013

How Does a Defibrillator Work?

Automated External Defibrillators (AED's) 

Save Thousands of Lives Each Year

Over 350,000 people will suffer from sudden cardiac arrest this year according to the American Red Cross. It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere and at any age. An AED is the only effective treatment for restoring a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest and is an easy to operate tool for someone with no medical background. 

What an AED does is analyze, diagnose, and treats (if necessary) any heart rhythm, all while giving step-by-step instructions to the user on how to literally save an individuals life. Here's how it works:

How it Works

A defibrillator is an electronic device that can be used to deliver an electrical shock to the heart when there is a disturbance in the rhythm of the heartbeat. 

First, two sticker-like pads are placed on the chest of an individual who seems to be in any of cardiac distress. Pictures on each pad indicate the approximate area of where it should be placed.

Next, the AED will analyze the heart beat of the individual to determine if a shock is indicated. If this is the case, the machine clearly instructs all surrounding individuals to stand back prior to delivering the shock. Ultimately, the shock will stop the individuals heart, then "reset" it, hopefully back to a normal rhythm. This may occur after one shock or multiple shocks. 

Easy How-To
Using an AED is actually fairly simple.

  1. If you suspect that a person is suffering from a heart attack and an AED is on the premises, it should be retrieved as quickly as possible.
  2. 911 should be called immediately so they can take over as soon as they arrive
  3. Assess the scene to make sure that it is safe for you to approach the individual.
  4. Confirm that the person cannot respond by loudly asking them if they are ok or by shaking the person on their shoulder.
  5. Check the person's breathing to see if it is absent or irregular, and check for a pulse if you know how to. 
  6. Open the AED and turn it on. It will give you step by step audible instructions, as well as on-screen prompts.
  7. Remove any clothing to expose the persons chest. Any metal must also be removed as this will burn them if they are shocked. 
  8. Make sure that the chest is dry above the person's right nipple and on the left side of their rib cage, so that the contact pads will be able to stick to the skin.
  9. Place one pad above the person's right nipple, and the other pad on the left side of the rib cage just slightly below the left nipple. Pictures on the AED pads will guide you. Make sure that the pads stick well to the skin.
  10. If the pads do not make good contact with the skin, the AED will tell you to "Check the Electrodes". If the person has a hairy chest, it may be necessary to shave a small area of the chest. Some AED kits include a razor or scissors, otherwise use the pads as a wax-type hair removal treatment.
  11. Press the "Analyze" button if the AED doesn't automatically start to analyze the person's heart rhythm. It is imperative that you do not move or touch the person while this analysis is occurring to ensure that it gets an accurate reading.
  12. If an electrical shock is needed, the AED will let you know when to deliver it and tell you to press the "Shock" button. It is important that no one is touching the person while the shock is being delivered; or they too will get shocked.
  13. After the shock is delivered, start or resume CPR until the emergency medical technicians arrive, until the person becomes responsive, or until the AED indicated to deliver another shock. 
This one minute video will also show you how to use an AED

Locate Your Nearest AED
One of the first thing you should do is become aware of where any AEDs are located in your workplace or at establishments you frequent. Automated External Defibrillators are typically located in common, high traffic areas in buildings. They are often located near elevators, near entrances, or in main corridors or hallways. They will often be in a metal box that is mounted to the wall, similar to a fire extinguisher.

An AED will almost always have a sign over it, and is identified with a universal AED symbol - a heart with a lightning bolt through it. This symbol makes it easy to locate an AED, and this same symbol is even used in other countries.

Take note of where AEDs are located at your workplace or businesses you visit often. That way you will be able to access them quickly in the event of an emergency, or be able to direct a friend or coworker to access them quickly.


  1. Thank you, this advice is very valuable to know when it comes to defibrillators and situations where they would be needed. My uncle is a paramedic and often speaks of these and many other devices he uses on a daily basis. It is incredible how far technology has come.

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