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AEDs: The Machine That Can Save Your Life (and Others)

They’re usually placed in plain sight and in public places. Whether you’ve noticed them or not, their purpose is to save your life and others.

An automated external defibrillator or AED is a portable medical device that can be used when someone experiences sudden cardiac arrest. More than 350,000 people suffer cardiac arrest every year.

“The time between collapse and that first shock is vital for the patient’s survival,” says Scott Youngquist, MD, MS, an emergency medicine physician and professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at University of Utah Health. “Survival goes down by about 10 percent per minute as a person lies in cardiac arrest and doesn’t receive a shock.”

Instead of waiting for trained medical professionals, you can use an AED to increase the odds of survival.

How an AED works

An AED automatically analyzes the heart rhythm in people who experience cardiac arrest. It delivers an electrical shock to the heart to restore its normal rhythm.

When to use an AED

When a person experiences cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating, and blood is not pumped to the rest of the body.

You can tell a person is in cardiac arrest if they:

  • Suddenly collapse and lose consciousness
  • Are not responding to shaking or shouting
  • Aren’t breathing
  • Are gasping for air

If a person is in cardiac arrest, start performing CPR and have someone locate an AED. You can find AEDs in many public places such as schools, shopping centers, grocery stores, airports, and stadiums.

How to use an AED

While training is recommended, anyone can easily use an AED. The American Red Cross recommends using an AED on someone aged 8 and older or a child that weighs more than 55 pounds.

  1. Call 9-1-1 if someone is not breathing or is experiencing cardiac arrest.
  2. Follow the voice-guided steps once you turn the AED on.
  3. Attach the pads on the chest of the person in cardiac arrest.
  4. Let the AED analyze the heart’s rhythm.
  5. Deliver a shock if the AED determines one is needed.
  6. Perform CPR if no shock is advised or after the AED delivers a shock.

AED Training

While AEDs are not difficult to use and anyone can use them, training is recommended. Both CPR and AED training are typically taught together. By learning how to do both, you can help save a life. The American Red Cross believes that improved training and access to AEDs could save 50,000 lives each year.