Step by Step Guide on How to Use an AED

Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have become crucial lifesaving devices, playing a pivotal role in the chain of survival during cardiac emergencies. Understanding their importance, proper usage, and addressing common misconceptions enhance the chances of survival in critical situations. This article explores the significance of AED usage, how to operate an AED, its effectiveness, potential risks, and legal implications, and dispels myths surrounding these life-saving devices.

Using an AED involves a series of clear and straightforward steps, with the device itself guiding voice and visual prompts. Here's a step by step guide on How to Use an AED:

  1. Turn on the AED: Power up the device to initiate the rescue process.
  2. Attach the Electrode Pads: Proper pad placement is essential. Follow the visual and voice prompts provided by the AED.
  3. Analyze the Heart Rhythm: The AED assesses the heart rhythm to determine if a shock is needed.
  4. Clear the Patient: Ensure no one is touching the patient to avoid interference with the shock.
  5. Deliver the Shock: If advised, deliver the shock as instructed by the AED.
  6. Perform CPR: After the shock, immediately resume CPR to maintain blood circulation.
  7. Continue Following AED Prompts: Follow the AED's prompts until professional medical help arrives.

1. Turn on the AED

The first step in using an AED is to power up the device. Most AEDs have a clearly marked on/off button or switch. Turning it on initiates the rescue process and activates the device. It's essential to do this quickly after assessing that a person is unresponsive and not breathing normally. AEDs are designed to be user-friendly and often provide voice and visual prompts, guiding you through the entire process.


2. Attach the Electrode Pads

Proper placement of the electrode pads is crucial for the AED to assess the victim's heart rhythm accurately. If possible, remove the clothing from the chest to expose the person's bare skin. Then, open the electrode pad package and attach them as indicated by the AED's visual and voice prompts. Typically, one pad is placed on the upper right chest, just below the collarbone, and the other on the left side, below the nipple line. Ensure that the pads are firmly attached to the skin without any wrinkles or air gaps.


3. Analyze the Heart Rhythm

After attaching the electrode pads, the AED will automatically begin analyzing the person's heart rhythm. This analysis is critical because it determines whether a shock is necessary. During this process, it's crucial to ensure no one touches the patient. The AED will provide clear instructions, such as "Stand clear" or "Do not touch the patient," to ensure everyone's safety during the analysis.


4. Clear the Patient

Once the AED has completed its analysis and determines that a shock is required, it will prompt you to "Clear the patient." Clearing the patient means ensuring that no one is touching the victim or is in contact with any conductive materials that could interfere with the shock delivery. This step is vital to avoid causing harm to the rescuer or the victim.


5. Deliver the Shock

If the AED advises delivering a shock, it will clearly instruct you to "Press the shock button" or "Deliver the shock now." At this point, you should follow the AED's instructions precisely. Many AEDs have a button that you press to administer the shock, while some deliver it automatically. The shock is designed to be brief and delivered to restore a normal heart rhythm.


6. Perform CPR

Immediately after delivering the shock, it's crucial to resume cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). CPR helps maintain blood circulation to vital organs, including the brain, and is essential for the person's survival. Continue to follow the AED's prompts, which will guide you through the correct compression-to-ventilation ratio (usually 30 chest compressions to 2 rescue breaths) and ensure that you maintain a good depth and rate of chest compressions.


7. Continue Following AED Prompts

The AED will continue providing prompts and instructions throughout the rescue process. It will prompt you to perform CPR cycles and reanalyze the heart rhythm to determine if additional shocks are needed. Continue to follow these instructions until professional medical help arrives on the scene. Remember that early defibrillation and effective CPR are key components in increasing the chances of survival during a cardiac emergency.

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How effective is AED usage in cardiac emergencies?

AEDs increase the chances of survival when used promptly. Research shows that early defibrillation within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest increases survival rates by up to 70%. In fact, according to Medscape research, the survival rates for people experiencing ventricular fibrillation and treated with AEDs vary between 0% and 31%. In contrast, the survival rates for those receiving basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) alone range from 0% to 6%. Theoretically, providing specific individuals in the community with early access to and training in both AED usage and CPR could potentially save even more lives.


Are there any potential risks or side effects associated with AED usage?

AEDs are generally safe to use. The shock delivered by AEDs is brief and designed to minimize harm. However, like any medical device, there are a few potential risks and considerations associated with AED usage:

  • Misuse: Incorrect use of an AED leads to complications. It's crucial to follow the device's prompts carefully. Applying the electrodes incorrectly or attempting to use an AED on someone who does not require it results in ineffective treatment.
  • Device Malfunction: Although rare, AEDs malfunction. Regular maintenance checks are essential to ensure the device is operational. Checking the battery life and electrode pad expiration dates are crucial to preventing device failures during an emergency.
  • Interference: External factors such as water, metal surfaces, or excessive movement interfere with the AED's ability to analyze the heart rhythm accurately. Ensuring the patient is dry and on a stable surface mitigates this risk.
  • Pacemakers and Implantable Devices: AEDs are generally safe for individuals with pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs). The electric shock from the AED is low-energy and specifically targeted at the heart. However, placing the AED pads at least one inch away from these devices is advisable if possible.
  • Sensitive Populations: While AEDs are generally safe for most people, individuals with certain rare heart conditions might have specific requirements. For example, individuals with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy require different pad placements.
  • Potential Emotional Distress: Bystanders and responders might experience emotional distress when using an AED, especially when involving friends or family members. Training programs often include psychological preparedness to handle these situations.
  • Post-Event Stress: After using an AED, witnesses, and responders experience stress or anxiety. Proper debriefing and access to counseling services are essential in helping individuals cope with the emotional aftermath.


Is AED usage different for adults, children, and infants?

AED usage differs for adults, children, and infants due to the significant physiological and size differences among these age groups. Tailoring the application of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) ensures the delivery of appropriate therapy, emphasizing the importance of pediatric-specific pads for children and infants.



  • Electrode Pad Placement: For adults, the electrode pads are typically placed on the upper right chest, just below the collarbone, and the lower left side, below the nipple line. This positioning allows the electric current to pass through the heart's most critical areas effectively.
  • Energy Levels: Adult AEDs deliver a higher energy shock, usually between 150 to 200 joules, to restore the heart's normal rhythm during ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia.


Children (1 to 8 years old or weighing less than 55 pounds)

  • Electrode Pad Placement: For children, pediatric-specific electrode pads are used, and pad placement is adjusted to the child's smaller body size. One pad is placed on the center of the child's chest, just below the collarbone, and the other on the child's back between the shoulder blades. This configuration ensures the electric current passes through the heart effectively.
  • Energy Levels: Pediatric AEDs deliver a lower energy shock, typically around 50 to 70 joules. This reduced energy level is safer for children and minimizes the risk of injury while still effectively correcting abnormal heart rhythms.


Infants (Under 1 year old)

  • Electrode Pad Placement: For infants, specialized infant pads are used. One pad is placed on the center of the infant's chest, and the other on the infant's back. Alternatively, for some AED models, a single pad with a specific diagram is simultaneously applied to the infant's chest and back. The goal is to ensure the electric current passes through the infant's heart.
  • Energy Levels: Infant AEDs deliver the lowest energy shock, usually around 30 joules. The low energy setting is crucial to minimize the risk of injury to infants' delicate and developing tissues.


Importance of Pediatric Pads

Using pediatric-specific pads is critical when treating children and infants. These pads are equipped with algorithms that adjust the energy levels and shock delivery to be appropriate for children's smaller hearts and bodies. Applying adult pads to children or infants results in an excessive shock, potentially causing harm. Pediatric pads and the correct placement technique increase the chances of successful defibrillation while prioritizing the safety of young patients.


Can AEDs be used on pregnant women?

Yes, AEDs should be used on pregnant women if they experience a sudden cardiac arrest. The electric shock delivered by an AED is focused on the heart and does not harm the developing fetus. Proper placement of the AED pads on the upper-right and lower-left areas of the pregnant woman's chest is essential. Using an AED promptly increases the chances of survival for both the mother and the baby by restoring the heart's normal rhythm and ensuring proper blood circulation.


What are the common misconceptions about AED usage?

Several common misconceptions about AED (Automated External Defibrillator) usage hinder people from using these life-saving devices effectively. Here are some of the most prevalent misconceptions:

1. AEDs are complicated and only Used by medical professionals: AEDs are designed to be user-friendly and used by anyone, regardless of their medical background. They provide clear voice and visual prompts to guide users through the process.

2. AEDs Harm the Person in Cardiac Arrest: AEDs are programmed to analyze the heart rhythm and deliver a shock only if necessary. The shock is safe and saves a person's life by restoring a normal heart rhythm.

3. CPR Alone is Sufficient; AEDs Aren't Necessary: While CPR is crucial, AEDs increase survival chances. AEDs analyze the heart rhythm and deliver a shock if needed, which is often essential to restoring a normal heartbeat.

4. AEDs Can Be Used on Wet Surfaces, Like in the Rain: AEDs should be used in dry conditions whenever possible. Water and moisture interfere with the device's functionality and increase the risk of electric shock to the rescuer and others around.

5. AEDs Can Be Used Anytime the Heart Stops: AEDs are specifically designed for sudden cardiac arrest caused by specific arrhythmias. They are not meant for other medical emergencies like heart attacks, choking, or respiratory distress.

6. You Need to Wait for Medical Professionals to Arrive Before Using an AED: Time is crucial during a cardiac emergency. AEDs should be used as soon as possible after calling emergency services. For every minute that passes without defibrillation, the chances of survival decrease.

7. AEDs Require Extensive Training to Use: While training is beneficial, AEDs are designed for use by untrained bystanders. The devices provide step-by-step instructions, allowing even those without formal training to use them effectively.

8. AEDs Revive Someone Unconscious for a Long Time: AEDs are most effective when used within the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest. They are not a miracle cure for long-term unconsciousness and are ineffective if too much time has passed since the arrest occurred.

Dispelling these misconceptions is crucial to increasing public awareness and encouraging more people to use AEDs confidently, ultimately saving more lives during cardiac emergencies.


Are there different types of AEDs, and how do you choose the right one?

Yes, there are various types of AEDs available, ranging from basic models to more advanced ones with additional features. Choosing the right AED involves evaluating the specific needs of the setting, the potential users' training levels, and any special requirements, such as pediatric capabilities.


What are the legal implications of AED usage in public places?

The legal implications of AED (Automated External Defibrillator) usage in public places vary by jurisdiction but generally include:

  1. Good Samaritan Laws: These laws protect individuals who use AEDs in good faith to save a life, provided they act within their training and without expecting compensation.
  2. AED Placement and Accessibility: Some regions have regulations specifying where AEDs should be placed and ensuring they are properly maintained.
  3. Training and Certification: Training requirements are specified for AED users, and some regions require oversight by certified instructors or medical directors.
  4. Post-Incident Reporting: Documentation of AED use is required to establish that the device was used appropriately.
  5. Liability Concerns: Negligence in AED maintenance or improper usage leads to legal liability.
  6. Notification and Registration: Some jurisdictions require notifying authorities about AED locations and, in some cases, registering the devices for oversight and tracking.


How often should AEDs be checked for maintenance?

AEDs should be regularly checked to ensure they are functioning correctly. Electrode pads and batteries have expiration dates and should be replaced accordingly. Training in AED usage, CPR, and basic first aid is highly recommended and increases the effectiveness of AED interventions.

AEDs should undergo regular maintenance checks to ensure their functionality during emergencies:

  1. Daily Visual Inspection: Verify the AED's presence, status indicator light, and absence of damage.
  2. Weekly/Monthly Self-Tests: AEDs often perform self-tests; ensure these are enabled, occurring weekly or monthly.
  3. Regular Maintenance Checks: Conduct detailed checks every 30-90 days, inspecting the device, verifying battery status, and checking electrode pad expiration dates.
  4. Replace Expired Parts: Promptly replace expired electrode pads and batteries to maintain effectiveness.
  5. Software Updates: Stay updated with manufacturer notifications for software updates to ensure optimal functioning.
  6. Immediate Post-Use Inspection: After use, clean the AED, replace used pads, and check for damage.


Adhering to manufacturer guidelines and local regulations is crucial for AED maintenance, ensuring legal compliance and the device's effectiveness in saving lives during cardiac emergencies.