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What Is an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)?

Imagine you are with your family eating at a restaurant, and then you notice a commotion. People are starting to gather around a woman lying on the ground. You notice a bystander checking the woman and starting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with compressions. When someone shouts, “Someone go get the AED!” You think to yourself, what is that?!

Many like yourself may have never heard the term AED or defibrillator, especially if you have no medical background or experience. According to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) an AED is a type of defibrillator, which is used in public places to help restore a regular cardiac rhythm by sending an electric pulse or shock to the heart. They are used to prevent or correct an irregular heartbeat and can even restore a cardiac rhythm if the heart has stopped beating. These special types of defibrillators were created to help save the lives of those experiencing cardiac arrest. They are fairly simple to use that even an untrained bystander can use this life-saving device in an emergency situation. The first step in using an AED is turning the device “on”. Some AEDS automatically turn on by opening the lid, and others have a button to press. The next step is to listen to the audible prompts or instructions to place the pads on the victim. It is critical to not touch the victim while AED is analyzing the rhythm and when pressing the “shock” button to prevent injuries to those administering CPR skills. Some students have the misconception that the AED performs CPR for you and stand back thinking the AED device will compress the heart. However, this idea is false. The AED only improves CPR skills. CPR can also be performed without the AED device. A study completed in 2018 revealed that survival from cardiac arrest doubles with the use of an AED. One can learn to use an AED by taking a CPR course and becoming certified to administer these life-saving skills. If you have never taken a class, it is never too late to learn, because emergencies are never a planned event.


Ha, Y. (2020). Resuscitation: Improving Bystander CPR and AED Access. The Journal for Respiratory Care Practitioners, 33(8), 28–31.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Defibrillators. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

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