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How Does a Defibrillator Work

Updated on December 26, 2012

Automated External Defibrillators Save Thousands of Lives Each Year

This morning, I completed an online Medic First Aid training course offered by my company. It was more or less a first responder training course that was geared toward teaching you how to provide basic first aid, CPR, and how to utilize an AED (Automated External Defibrillator). The goal of this training course was to arm you with the knowledge needed to help stabilize an injured person, or to be able to administer potentially life-saving assistance until an Emergency Medical Technician could respond to the scene.

At my workplace, we have an AED located next to the elevators on every floor of our building. I have frequently taken notice of them, but honestly had no clue how they worked, or more importantly when one should be utilized.

I was fascinated by this part of the training course, and now have a good understanding of how they work and when to use them. So I decided to create this lens, hoping that it may help to convey some awareness to others and potentially help someone out in the future.

With heart attacks being such a common occurrence in the work place, becoming aware of how an Automated External Defibrillator works just could save a life some day. So in this lens, I will take a closer look at these devices and answer the question "how does a defibrillator work".

Know Where AEDs Are Located

One of the first thing you should do is become aware of where any AEDs are located in your workplace or at establishments you frequent. Automated External Defibrillators are typically located in common, high traffic areas in buildings. They are often located near elevators, near entrances, or in main corridors or hallways. They will often be in a metal box that is mounted to the wall, similar to a fire extinguisher.

An AED will almost always have a sign over it, and is identified with a universal AED symbol - a heart with a lightning bolt through it. This symbol makes it easy to locate an AED, and this same symbol is even used in other countries.

Take note of where AEDs are located at your workplace or businesses you visit often. That way you will be able to access them quickly in the event of an emergency, or be able to direct a friend or coworker to access them quickly.

(Image credit to Hawaii County - Licensed via Creative Commons with Attribution)

How Does a Defibrillator Work?

A defibrillator is an electronic device that can be used to deliver an electrical shock to the heart when there is a disturbance in the rhythm of the heartbeat. This irregular heartbeat to be concerned with is a type of arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation (or what would commonly be referred to as a heart attack). This is a very erratic beating of the heart that prevents it from rhythmically contracting and pumping blood throughout the body effectively.

An automated external defibrillator essentially delivers a shock to the heart that stops it from beating erratically, and allows it to beat and contract in its normal rhythm. Thanks to the wonders of modern electronics, AEDs can actually walk an untrained person through the process of delivering this potentially life-saving shock.

Using an AED is actually pretty simple...

  1. If you suspect that a person is suffering from a heart attack and an AED is on the premises, it should be retrieved as quickly as possible.
  2. 911 should be called immediately so that emergency medical technicians can be dispatched to your location.
  3. You should confirm that the person cannot respond by loudly asking them if they are OK, while shaking the person on their shoulder.
  4. Check the person's breathing to see if it is absent or irregular, and check for a pulse if you know how to. If a person is breathing normally, then they may be suffering from another type of medical condition.
  5. Open the AED and turn it on. It will give you step by step audible instructions, as well as on-screen prompts.
  6. Remove any clothing from the person's upper torso to expose their chest.
  7. Make sure that the chest is dry above the person's right nipple and on the left side of their rib cage, so that the contact pads will be able to stick to the skin.
  8. Place one pad above the person's right nipple, and the other pad on the left side of the rib cage just slightly below the left nipple. The AED pads will contain pictures that will show you the exact placement. Make sure that the pads stick well to the skin.
  9. If the pads do not make good contact with the skin, the AED will tell you to "Check the Electrodes". If the person has a hairy chest, it may be necessary to shave a small area of the chest. The AED kits will usually include a razor or scissors.
  10. You will also want to make sure that metal necklaces or underwire bras are removed or cut to prevent them from interfering with the AED. Make sure that any medication patches on the chest are removed if in the way. You will also want to look for any visible scars and bulging that may indicate the the person has a pacemaker installed. If so, make sure that the AED pads are at least one inch away from any implanted devices.
  11. You may need to press an "Analyze" button at this point, or the AED will automatically start to analyze the person's heart beat. Once it performs this analysis, it will determine whether or not the administration of an electrical shock is necessary. It is important to not move or touch the person while this analysis is occurring to ensure that it gets an accurate reading.
  12. If an electrical shock is needed, the AED will let you know when to deliver it and tell you to press the "Shock" button. It is important that everyone stands clear when this occurs and that no one is touching the person.
  13. After the shock is delivered, start or resume CPR until the emergency medical technicians arrive or until the person becomes responsive. Make sure that you stay with the person until the E.M.T.s arrive and be sure to provide them all information that you know about what has happened with the individual.

As a disclaimer, I have to state that I am not a certified medical technician. If you find yourself responding to a medical emergency, you should contact 911 as soon as possible. You should follow the instructions that are provided to you by the AED. The voice prompts will walk you through the process step by step. If your company offers a first aid course or instructional course on using an AED, I would highly recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity to attend. All of these steps and more are covered in an AED training course to allow you to become more familiar and comfortable with them. Performing these steps can be scary, but without your action a life could be lost.

(Image Credit - anitakhart - Licensed via Creative Commons with Attribution.)

Video on How to Use an AED

Watch this great video on how to use an Automated External Defibrillator. It has some great information about the life saving benefits these devices offer.

AEDs on Amazon

Defibrillators are becoming very common and you should notice them in most workplaces, businesses, and other areas where a number of people gather. I have even seen an AED in the gathering area of the church that I attend. Having an AED on site could mean the difference between life and death, because every minute counts in the event of a heart attack.

If you need an AED for your home or place of business, then check out the great offerings from Amazon below:

Do you know someone personally that has suffered a heart attack?

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Could You Operate an AED?

If you found yourself in an emergency situation, do you think you could utilize an AED in an effort to save someone's life?

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So what do you think about AEDs?

Do you think you could use one if you had to?

Have you seen AEDs before in businesses and would you know where to find one if needed?

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    • goldenrulecomics profile image


      5 years ago from New Jersey

      Very nicely done. Thanks for sharing.

    • thegrayrabbit profile image


      6 years ago

      I learned how to use these during my CPR training through the Boy Scouts of America leader training.


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