The What and Why of Automated External Defibrillators

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The What and Why of Automated External Defibrillators

Have you come across an automated external defibrillator (AED) and wondered why they seem to be increasing in prevalence in offices, homes and public buildings? Well, there is a simple answer to this, an AED as it is commonly called, is a device that is used to help people who suddenly develop cardiac arrest. It is usually used by people with no medical training as the first line of treatment before taking the patient to the hospital or waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

An automated external defibrillator is a simple to use device that can be used by just about anyone who can follow instructions delivered via the machine. The machine is used by police officers, loved ones of those suffering from cardiac complications, firefighters, teachers and security guards to name a few. Anyone who is in a position to provide emergency assistance or is in a job where life-saving emergency assistance is part of their job description.

Who Can Use an AED?

Although AED is meant to be used by the general public without any prior training, institutions such as the Red Cross conduct training programmes for individuals who want to be certified in AED/CPR.

How Useful Is having Quick Access to an AED?

Automated external defibrillators are extremely useful. The Red Cross states that for every minute defibrillation is delayed for the patient, the chances of survival diminish by about 10%. Therefore, knowing how to use an AED is as important as having quick access to one.   

How Does an AED Work?

An automated external defibrillator is a portable, lightweight electronic medical device that produces an electric shock to the heart once it analyses the heart’s rhythm and deems it necessary to do so. The electric shock serves to stop an irregular heartbeat to help the heart resume a normal rhythm. If a malfunctioning heart stops and if it is not attended to immediately it can lead to death quickly – within minutes. This is why a portable AED is considered a true lifesaver. 

To start using the AED it must first be attached to the patient’s chest at which point the AED starts to analyse the patient’s heartbeat and rhythm and decides if an electric shock is needed and if so, a voice recording instructs the user of the device to use the shock button. Some models will proceed to deliver the shock without any help from the user. The machine is extremely user-friendly as it guides the user via a series of text and/or voice instructions.


If there is access to an AED then this would be the best to use on the patient till the first responders arrive. If, however, there is no AED available, then CPR must be administered as quickly as possible. Newer portable defibrillators in the market have CPR instructions built in as well, once the device is strapped to the patient the machine prompts instructions to the person administering CPR telling them if they should be pushing faster or harder ensuring CPR is provided is effective.