AED’s – What are they and why should I know?

Hospitals, Police stations, Railway and tube stations, gyms, schools, libraries, the list is endless. In an emergency, you will be told to find an AED in these places. But what is an AED when it is at home and why should I know what to do with one?


An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that checks the rhythm of the heart and can send a shock to try to restore a normal heart rhythm. AEDs are used to treat sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). This is a condition whereby the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating normally meaning blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital tissues. The result is death if not treated within minutes. In fact, each minute an AED is delayed leads to a 10 percent reduction in survival. Using a defibrillator on a person who is having a sudden cardiac arrest may save the person’s life.

Using it correctly

SCA present in many ways. The two most common being Ventricular Fibrillation (V-Fib) or Ventricular Tachycardia. The application of an AED in conjunction with efficient CPR can help regulate heart rhythm and restore a hearts ability to continue unaided until help arrives.

The deployment of an AED is often the one thing that saves a life. With large numbers of people in the UK suffering from SCA they have become a popular lifesaving measure that is important in both urban and rural areas. There have been concerted local campaigns to introduce these across the UK.


A rescuer does not have to be formally trained to use an AED. The machine gives clear guidance on how to use it, however when coupled with efficient life saving CPR learned on a simple first aid course can allow more efficiency in the deployment of the device and a greater chance to restore the hearts natural rhythm and the casualties quality of life.

Some AED’s come with both Adult and Child pads and some can be set to suit the age of the casualty. Many locally available AED’s have the ability to record incident details including the number of shocks and any rhythms traced, but this is not always retrievable straight after the incident.

Local access? Public access?


If you have an AED local to you, it may be important to familiarise yourself with its location and the protocols around getting it in an emergency. For instance who to call for unlocking codes. Some are accessed in a centre and can only be accessed at certain times – often a person will accompany the AED to assist if required.

Important things to note with an AED is to be aware that they have service intervals and can be subject to service failure as well as possible vandalism. Even though you may fetch an AED quickly, it may not function, may have technical issues or may have been stolen or vandalised. In this case it may be vital that a rescuer has the skills to perform CPR while waiting for professionals to arrive. Perhaps the attendance of basic first aid training might make the difference in these eventualities.

Interested in basic first aid training or AED skills? Contact us for details of our local courses on how to use and AED and how to perform life saving CPR. More information about SCA can be found at British Heart Foundation.