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How to use a defibrillator

by James Quilty

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If someone in your office were to succumb to cardiac arrest, would you be confident enough to use a defibrillator, would you know where to find one? Logicearth has created a free guide for you to share with your colleagues that takes the fear out of using a defibrillator.

A defibrillator exampleWhat is a defibrillator?


A defibrillator is a fully automatic medical device that delivers an electric shock to the heart. You use it to jolt the heart out of an abnormal, chaotic electrical rhythm and allows the normal heart rhythm to restart.





Examples of automated external defibrillators



What are the signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest?

An AED is designed to treat someone who has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. This normally affects older people, but it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.


  • Unconscious
  • Unresponsive
  • Not breathing or
  • breathing erratically
  • Heart's normal electrical impulses
  • become chaotic and disorganised
    (called ventricular fibrillation or VF)
  • Heart quivers
  • Heart stops pumping blood around body


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Heart attack vs cardiac arrest

People often use the terms cardiac arrest and heart attack interchangeably, but they are actually two different events. Put simply, a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem, whereas a heart attack is a circulatory problem.


Cardiac arrest and heart attack


The causes of a cardiac arrest


Symptoms of a cardiac arrest


The consequences of a cardiac arrest


Where can i find an AED?

The emergency services may be able to tell you over the phone where the nearest AED is located. AEDs are usually located in public places such as: shopping centres, transport hubs, gyms,  sports clubs, leisure centres.


Where AEDs are located

Your nearest AED may be locked in a cabinet for security reasons, but don't panic – there will be visible instructions on how to gain access, for example using a keypad code.


local aeds

Examples of AED signage


How do you use an AED?

AEDs were designed to be used by anybody – no training is required. Each AED gives verbal instructions and visual prompts on how to use it, so everything is explained for you, step by step.

Download  Free eBook

When do you use an AED?

It’s only rarely that the emergency services arrive on the scene early enough to carry out defibrillation. For this reason, it’s vital that as many people as possible are able to find and use an AED. Knowing how to do this means that you could provide the crucial link in the chain of survival.

What would you do if someone collapsed in front of you?

If someone collapses near you in a public place and shows the signs of sudden cardiac arrest – take action, be a link in the CHAIN!


  • Call 999/112
  • Hands on heart: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • AED
  • INcreased chance of survival

Available to download in our Resources section below.

These steps are often represented as the chain of survival, because they are a sequence of basic actions that can save the life of a person in sudden cardiac arrest. A handy way to remember these steps is using the letters in the word 'chain'.

For more on CPR, see our Useful links section.

Defibrillation Taboos & FAQs

Here are some of the questions that we might be too embarrassed to ask:


What if it's wet – can you use an AED in those conditions?

Yes, as long as you make sure the casualty's chest is dry before attaching the electrode pads. Wipe any sweat from the chest, as moisture could direct the current away from the heart. If the electrode pads are not stuck to the person correctly, then the defibrillation won't work.


Is it okay to use an AED on a child casualty?

Only if you use paediatric pads, since these deliver a lower voltage charge. Many AEDs come equipped with two sets of electrode pads – one for adults and one for children.


Can you use an AED if the casualty is a pregnant woman?

Yes, you can and should use an AED on this type of casualty.


Can you use an AED on a person who has a pacemaker fitted?

Yes, you can use an AED on this type of casualty.


Could you get sued for using an AED without the casualty's permission?

The law is on your side – you should not be afraid of any legal repercussions from using an AED. In many countries, there's 'Good Samaritan' legislation that protects those who help people in a medical emergency.


Where is the nearest AED?

Authorities and organisations in many areas are increasingly making efforts to map all locations of public access defibrillators. The best first step is to contact your local ambulance service for more information.


It’s the first 3–5 minutes that count…
You can only help the situation by using an AED – you’ve nothing to lose.


What do defibrillators do?

A common misconception is that a defibrillator restarts a heart that has stopped, but this is not the case. If the heart can no longer create its own electrical pulse, using a defibrillator will not work. The defibrillator does what the name implies – it defibrillates a fibrillating heart.

How do defibrillators work?

They deliver a shock essentially resetting the heart, potentially enabling it to regain normal electrical activity and, therefore, a normal rhythm. If the shock is not strong enough, the heart might not completely repolarise, leading to a continuation of arrhythmia. The defibrillator will monitor the new heartbeat and advise the user to shock again (if required).



Downloadable resources


Download and share this free course in html to host on your website, or get the files and add it to your LMS.




Chain poster


Useful links


National Ambulance Service Medical Directors Group – Association of Ambulance Chief Executives

British Cardiovascular Society

British Heart Foundation – Northern Ireland*

British Red Cross*

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service

Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke*

Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service

Resuscitation Council (UK)*

St John Ambulance*



Irish Heart Foundation*

Irish Red Cross*

National Ambulance Service


European Resuscitation Council

European Society of Cardiology


American Heart Association*

InterAmerican Heart Foundation*


International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation

Restart a Heart Day


University of Warwick study on use of AEDs


* These also provide further online training on first aid

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