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The heart and circulatory system

What is an AED? What you need to know about Automated External Defibrillators

What is a defibrillator and how do defibrillators work?

An Automated External Defibrillator (also known as a defib, defibrillator or AED) is a device designed to detect life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias (also known as irregular electrical activity in the heart) and to deliver an electric shock to a patient that is suffering with cardiac arrest. The devices will not allow a shock to be delivered to a patient who does not require one, so they cannot be misused by the user.

What is defibrillation?

Defibrillation is the term given to the shock delivered by the AED. The electric shock therapy stops the heart's irregular activity (fibrillation) and helps it to re-establish a regular rhythm.

Why you need to have a defibrillator

When somebody falls victim to sudden cardiac arrest a defibrillator can make the difference between survival and death. With approximately 60,000 cardiac arrests occurring every year in the UK outside of hospitals, an AED is a life-saving piece of equipment and a necessity in businesses, schools, care facilities and organisations and areas open to the public.

Every minute that a cardiac arrest victim is not treated their chances of survival reduce by 10%. With the average response time of ambulance call-outs at over 5 minutes in the UK in 2014, it is vital that precautions are taken at a local level.

A defibrillator can administer life-saving treatment immediately thus increasing patient's chances of survival significantly.

Who can use a defibrillator?

Although defibrillators are medical devices, they are designed for use by persons with non-medical training; fully automatic units for complete lay persons. The fully automatic defib unit will guide the users through treating the patient until an ambulance arrives while semi-automatic defibrillator units are designed for users with some medical training.

How to use a defibrillator

Fully automatic vs semi automatic defibrillators

Both fully and semi-automatic defibrillators will guide the user on how to treat the patients and talk them through the application of the defibrillator pads and how to administer CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation). The main difference between fully and semi-automatic AEDs is that a fully automatic defib will automatically administer the shock to the patient whereas a semi-automatic defib will ask for the user to press the "shock" button to deliver the shock to the patient. Again, it is important to emphasise that no AED unit will allow you to deliver, or will automatically deliver a shock itself to a patient, unless the diagnostics of the unit determine that it is safe and necessary to do so.

Buy a defibrillator

Need help choosing a defibrillator? Read our buying guide: which defibrillator do I need?

View semi-automatic defibrillators View fully automatic defibrillators View Training defibrillators

When to use a defibrillator unit

A defib can be used on patients that are not breathing as long as their heart is still beating (however weak or irregular the pulse may be). As with any emergency health situation, it is always best to be overcautious. It is advised that a user should attempt to use a defibrillator on a patient if they feel it is potentially necessary whilst getting another person to call the emergency services. A defibrillator will never administer a shock to a patient that does not require it, however it will still guide you through all the steps which may still be necessary.

Who needs a defibrillator?

Unfortunately, not enough organisations have defib units readily available to staff, visitors or members of the public. It is becoming increasingly common to see units in public areas although awareness is still not high enough.

As word is spreading about how critical and effective defibrillation is, more and more organisations are buying into this life-saving technology. Below is a list of organisations that have / are buying defibrillators regularly:

  • Schools, colleges and universities
  • Remote working locations
  • Retail stores and shopping centres
  • Charities
  • GP Practices, dental surgeries, health centres
  • Care homes and facilities
  • Sports centres and sports clubs
  • Councils and occupational health depts
  • NHS Trusts
  • Warehouses and distribution centres
  • Construction sites
  • Refineries and power plants
  • Stadia and public areas
  • Transport hubs i.e. train stations and airports

Maintaining an AED?

With AEDs carrying out their own self-checks on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, performing tests on battery life, pad status, software, circuitry, electronics and many other functions, users really only need to carry out regular visual inspections and react to defib alerts. These alerts provided by the defib will usually be in the form of an LED indication as to a (potential) problem as well as an audible alarm.

Defibs need pads that are in date, batteries that have enough power to deliver defibrillation and need to be kept clean and dry.

It is worth noting down the warranty and battery and pad life before purchasing a defibrillator, and checking the expiry date on the unit when you receive it. Some stockists do keep large volumes and units are supplied with significantly reduced lifespans. At The Defib Pad we promise to offer purchasers of defib units:

  • A free set of replacement pads / electrodes should you ever have to use yours
  • Free delivery of your defib unit to you by courier
  • Full life span on all components including batteries, pads and units due to our exceptional date controlled warehousing
  • Access to the best defibrillator units on the market
  • High quality customer service and after sales support
  • Honest information and impartial advice
  • Genuine products with up to date and maintained product information


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