What is an AED and How To Use One Properly

Imagine the scene: you’re waiting in line at a basketball game, a take-out restaurant, or a bank. You notice a commotion – a man has collapsed on the other side of the room. Someone calls out to dial 911, and someone else points at you and asks you to get the AED. Knowing exactly what to do, you grab the little red box off the wall and jump in to help save the man’s life.

AEDs are an important step in CPR that can greatly improve chances of survival. They’re easy to learn, easy to use and, most importantly, anyone can use them! This article will go over all you need to know about AEDs – what they are and how to use them properly.

What is an AED – and How Do They Save Lives?

The human heart beats according to a rhythm, that familiar “lub-dub” we all recognize. When the heart gets off its rhythm, it can sometimes spell disaster. An AED, or automated external defibrillator, is a device that delivers a shock to the heart to restart the rhythm. They basically provide a jumpstart to the heart to get it back to beating normally and doing what it does best – pumping blood and oxygen to the rest of your body.

AEDs come in many different shapes and sizes, but they usually share a few key features: they’re small, portable, clearly marked, and easily accessible. You’ve probably seen AEDs all around and you might not have even noticed! Next time you’re out and about, look for the signs – a heart with a lightning bolt signals that an AED is close by. In California, places like gyms, schools, and public pools are required to have an AED on site, and many more choose to have one available.

When Should You Use One?

So, now that you know what an AED is (and what it looks like), how do you know when to use one?

Knowing when to use an AED is easy:

  • If someone isn’t breathing, get the AED!
  • If someone doesn’t have a pulse, get the AED!


You should use an AED whenever someone needs CPR. If you’re in a situation where you’re not sure if you should use an AED or not, you can be on the safe side by setting it up to use. Don’t worry – an AED won’t shock someone unless they need it, so you’re not going to accidentally hurt someone just by getting it set up.

When Not to Use an AED

There are a few situations when you shouldn’t use an AED right away, like:

  • If the patient is in water or wet – dry the person the best you can before using the AED.
  • If the patient has a lot of hair on their chest – if you can, try to shave the hair. Many AEDs come with a razor in the kit.


How to Use an AED Correctly

Once you’ve determined that a person needs the AED, you’ve got to set it up and use it. AEDs are simple to use and come with clear, visual directions – they even talk you through what you need to do!

Here are the steps to use the AED:

Step 1: Turn the AED on.

First things first, you need to turn the device on. Press the power button – it should be clearly marked.

Step 2: Place the patches.

Next, you need to place the patches on the person. Open or remove their shirt place the patches on their chest – they have pictures to show you where they need to go. You might need to plug them into the AED.

Step 3: Analyze.

Make sure everyone stops touching the person and press the “Analyze” button on the AED. Many newer AEDs do this on their own – you don’t have to press anything.

Step 4: Shock (or not).

If the AED tells you to, make sure that no one is touching the patient again. Then, press the “Shock” button to deliver a shock. Begin CPR right away. Sometimes, the AED will not need to give a shock, so you can just start CPR.


Remember, AEDs are designed to be simple, intuitive, and easy to use. Now that you know what an AED is, you’ll be prepared to use one in an emergency.

Want to know more? Learn all about AEDs, plus CPR and more, with one of our weekly courses!


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