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How Does an Automated External Defibrillator Work?

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are lightweight, battery-operated, portable devices that are easy to use. Sticky pads with sensors (called electrodes) are attached to the chest of the person who is having sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

The electrodes send information about the person's heart rhythm to a computer in the AED. The computer analyzes the heart rhythm to find out whether an electric shock is needed. If a shock is needed, the AED uses voice prompts to tell you when to give the shock, and the electrodes deliver it.

Using an AED to shock the heart within minutes of the start of SCA may restore a normal heart rhythm. Every minute counts. Each minute of SCA leads to a 10 percent reduction in survival.

Training To Use an Automated External Defibrillator

Learning how to use an AED and taking a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) course are helpful. However, if trained personnel aren't available, untrained people also can use an AED to help save someone's life.

Some people are afraid to use an AED to help save someone's life. They're worried that something might go wrong and that they might be sued. However, Good Samaritan laws in each State and the Federal Cardiac Arrest Survival Act (CASA) provide some protection for untrained bystanders who respond to emergencies.

Facility owners who are thinking about buying an AED should provide initial and ongoing training to likely rescuers (usually people who work in the facility). Also, they should properly maintain the AED and notify local emergency officials of its location.

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December 02, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.