How to Use a Defibrillator (AED)

Using a defibrillator (AED) can sometimes be the difference between life and death in Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Knowing how, and when, to use one is vital. Read on for guidance on how to use a defibrillator, preparing you in the case of an emergency.

How to Use a Defibrillator: Step-by-step guide

In the case of an emergency, always call 999. The emergency services are always the best course of action, so you should always make the call. Knowing how to use a defibrillator while you wait for the arrival of an ambulance can save lives.

Step 1

Begin by carrying out a primary survey. According to St John Ambulance, this is the fastest way to ‘find out how to treat any life-threatening conditions a casualty may have in order of priority’. The easiest way to remember is to use St. John Ambulance’s acronym DR ABC: Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing and Circulation/999. We recommend you familiarise yourself with DR ABC here. It’s also recommended by all medical professionals and governing bodies that you look out for medical bracelets to indicate whether the casualty has any specific needs, such as epilepsy, for example.

Step 2

Once the primary survey is completed, and you find that the casualty is unresponsive and not breathing normally, ask the nearest person to call 999 for emergency help, and to find the nearest defibrillator. Begin CPR while you wait.

If you are on your own, St John Ambulance advise to use your hands-free speaker to communicate with ambulance control while you carry out CPR, and stress to not leave a casualty to look for a defibrillator yourself, as the ambulance will bring one.

Step 3

Once you have received the defibrillator, switch it on and remove the pads, all whilst continuing to practice CPR. CPR should continue until the electrode pads are applied, the AED is switched on and advises that it can be stopped. You will need to remove or cut clothing to get to the casualty’s bare chest and wipe away any sweat.

You will also need to remove anything that could interfere with the AED pads, such as jewellery or metal, including underwired bras. If chest hair is preventing contact between skin and the defibrillator pads – you will need to shave it off. Many defibrillators are supplied with razors if need be.

The defibrillator will now give you voice prompts on what to do next.

Step 4

Once you have removed the paper backing, you can now apply the pads. The first pad should be on the upper right side below the collar bone, and the second pad should be on the casualty’s left side below the armpit.

Step 5

The defibrillator will now analyse the heart’s rhythm. Make sure to stop CPR once the AED informs you that it is time to do so. There should be clear space between the casualty and anyone attending the scene, including yourself. The AED will give a series of visual and verbal prompts that should then be followed.

If the defibrillator instructs you that a shock is needed, ensure bystanders and helpers are a good distance from the casualty. If you have a semi-automatic AED, it will then tell you when you need to press the shock button. Fully automatic AEDs will do this without human intervention. The defibrillator will tell you to continue CPR for two minutes while it analyses the heartbeat.

If the defibrillator instructs you that no shock is needed, continue CPR until further prompt is delivered, the casualty shows signs of consciousness or once the emergency services relieve you.

Step 6

If the casualty shows signs of becoming responsive, whether that’s coughing or opening eyes for example, and begins to breathe normally, you can now place them in the recovery position. Ensure you keep the defibrillator attached so the AED can monitor their response.


Who Can Use a Defibrillator?

According to St John Ambulance, anybody can safely use a defibrillator. You shouldn’t wait for emergency services to begin treating the casualty, especially when treating a life-threatening condition. They are simple to use, and you don’t have to be trained. The defibrillator will guide you through everything you need to know using voice and visual prompts.

Can an AED Be Used on a Child or Infant?

According to St John Ambulance, standard defibrillator pads are suitable for use on children over the age of eight. They recommend that, for children aged between one and eight years, use a paediatric defibrillator or standard defibrillator with paediatric pads. The paediatric pads adjust the current delivered during defibrillation.

Please note: In an emergency, if a defibrillator with adult pads is the only device available, then it can be used. Never use a defibrillator on infants under the age of one.

Looking to supply a place of education with AEDs? Aero Healthcare is the lead partner with the NHS supply chain to state schools, and can supply defibrillators to your school.

Can defibrillators be used on pregnant women?

According to St John Ambulance, ‘there is nothing to indicate that defibrillators should not be used during pregnancy’. In the case of an emergency, always call 999.

Can defibrillators be used on a person with a pacemaker or similar?

St John Ambulance advise that you should ‘still use the defibrillator. If you see of feel a device under the chest skin, do not place the pad directly over it.’

Where Are Defibrillators Pads Placed?

Knowing where the defibrillator pads go is crucial. The first pad should be on the upper right side below the collar bone. The second pad should be on the casualty’s left side below the armpit.

Can an AED Be Placed on Clothes?

You will need to remove or cut clothing before placing the defibrillator pads on the casualty. You may also find that you need to remove any sweat, or even shave the casualty if this prevents contact with bare skin.

How Many Times Can A Defibrillator Be Used?

If properly maintained, a defibrillator will have multiple uses.  Once a defibrillator has been used for a casualty, it is important for the defibrillator pads to be replaced with a new set, as these are for one time use only and cannot be reused on another patient. It’s worth noting this doesn’t apply to every defibrillator brand, mainly HeartSine.

Looking for a Defibrillator Supplier?

Aero Healthcare provides high quality products and services from training to installation. Get in touch today and we can advise and support you on your defibrillator needs.