What is an AED

What is an AED in first aid

This article highlights what an AED is and how to use them in first aid.

What is an AED in first aid?

AED stands for Automated External Defibrillator.  They are portable devises used to shock the heart back into a proper rhyme. 

An AED in first aid can also referred to as defibrillators or PADs.

PAD stands for Public Access Defibrillator.

AEDs and PADs are the same thing.  They are designed to be used without training so anybody can use them to shock a heart back into the correct rhythm.


When is an AED used?

An AED is used in first aid following a cardiac arrest.  Do not confuse cardiac arrest with a heart attack. 

A heart attack is cause by a blockage that stops blood flowing sufficiently .  Emergency services are required ASAP.  Aspirin can help to thin blood while awaiting emergency services.

Cardiac arrest means the heart is not working properly and not moving blood through the body.  Again, emergency services are required ASAP.

First aid, the actions taken before emergency services arrive can dramaticallyincrease the chances of survival in the case of a cardiac arrest.

When used within the first 3-5 minutes of a person suffering a sudden cardiac arrest, an AED can increase a victim’s chance of survival from less than 5% to as much as 70%. 

Our Emergency First Aid (EFAW), Paediatric First Aid and First Aid at Work (FAW)courses all help your staff know when and how to use AEDs during first aid.


What is cardiac arrest?

Most cardiac arrests occur when a diseased heart's electrical system malfunctions.  This is known as sudden cardiac arrest or SCA. 

Causes of cardiac arrest include:

  • Heart’s electrical system malfunctions
  • Electrocution
  • A drug overdose
  • Losing a large amount of blood
  • Suffocation

There is often little or no warning for a sudden cardiac arrest.  A victim will suddenly lose consciousness, have absent or abnormal breathing and no blood circulation. 

Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death. 

Across the UK each year around 30,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur outside of hospitals.  Each year in Scotland over 3,000 people have resuscitations attempted.  Read Scotland’s strategy to improve survival

The chance of survival is low at around 10%. While this means only about 1 in 10 people survive out of hospital cardiac arrests, this is almost twice the survival rate of a decade ago.  

If you follow the Chain of Survival and use a AED quickly, the survival rate dramatically improves, rising to around 1 in 2 patients recovering.

Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone three public examples are Christian Eriksen (football), Fabrice Muamba (Football) and Damar Hamlin (American Football). 

In each of these cases a full recovery was made, and the Chain of Survival was activated very quickly. 

CPR was used nearly immediately.  Chest compressions and rescue breaths help blood flow around the body, simulating the action of the malfunctioning heart.   This means organs receive life-saving oxygen from flowing blood.  BUT it was an AED (Defibrillator or PAD) in each of these cases that restored the hearts natural rhythm and saved the patient’s life.

In the case of sudden cardiac arrest, CPR alone is unlikely to restart the heart and restore it to a normal rhythm. In most cases, an AED (defibrillation) is required.

So its well worth you knowing where AEDs are near you.  Especially in sporting environments including golf courses where heart rates are often elevated.

What is the Chain of Survival?

The chain of survival 

Following a sudden cardiac arrest, the Chain of Survival refers to the actions that a first aider will take to maximise the chance of the patient’s survival.

A person's heart will stop beating without warning when they suffer sudden cardiac arrest. They will collapse, lose consciousness, and look extremely pale.

The Chain of Survival is:

  1. Early Access - to care.  Identify issue and call emergency services
  2. Early CPR - continued until emergency services arrive
  3. Early Defibrillation - follow AED instructions
  4. Early advance care - professional care

Every second counts. Anyone could save a life by understanding and following the Chain of Survival.

In many locations an ambulance is unlikely to arrive within a 5-minute time window. 

So, do you know the location of your nearest AED?

How to use an AED

The video below explains how to use an AED.

Hopefully in this incredible stressful situation you or someone nearby have been able to contact the emergency services and they are on the way and will help talk you though what you need to do. 

No special training is required to use an AED. The machine will guide you. 

  • Switch on the AED and follow the voice prompts.
  • The AED will instruct you on how to apply the paediatric pads.
  • Once the pads are on, do not remove them.
  • if put on incorrectly - the AED will still work.
  • The AED will either instruct 'shock required' or 'no shock required’.
  • Ensure you don’t touch the casualty when the shock is given.
  • Some defibrillators automatically give the shock, whilst others are.
  • semi-automatic and will instruct you to press the shock button.
  • Continue CPR, following the AED voice prompt instructions.

How to AEDs work?

As mentioned, AEDs are designed to work with no training. 

Once the user attaches the pads with sensors (called electrodes) on the chest of the victim the electrodes send information about the person’s heart rhythm to a processor in the AED.  The AED then analyses the rhythm to find out whether an electric shock is needed.

When a heart rhythm is malfunctioning the electric shock from the AED is designed to interrupt this malfunctioning rhythm depolarising the muscles.  This shock will hopefully allow the muscles to restart on their own.  

Hopefully this article as highlighted the importance of knowing where your closest AEDs and when they should be used in First Aid.  Following a sudden cardiac arrest and as an important part of the ‘chain of survival’.