This is a technical explanation but don't let it put you off.  This is not essential reading. Anyone can use an automated external defibrillator!  A little free local training will give you added confidence to treat a victim.

An automated external defibrillator or AED is a portable electronic device that automatically diagnoses the potentially life threatening cardiac arrhythmias of ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia in a patient and is able to treat them through defibrillation, the application of electrical therapy which seeks to stop the arrhythmia, allowing the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm.


An automated external defibrillator is used in cases of life threatening cardiac arrhythmias which lead to cardiac arrest. The rhythms that the device will treat are usually limited to:

  • Pulseless Ventricular tachycardia (shortened to VT or V-Tach)
  • Ventricular fibrillation (shortened to VF or V-Fib)

In each of these two types of shockable cardiac arrhythmia, the heart is active, but in a life-threatening, dysfunctional pattern. In ventricular tachycardia, the heart beats too fast to effectively pump blood. Ultimately, ventricular tachycardia leads to ventricular fibrillation.

In ventricular fibrillation, the electrical activity of the heart becomes chaotic, preventing the ventricle from effectively pumping blood. The fibrillation in the heart decreases over time, and will eventually reach a condition where the heart ceases to beat.

When activated, the AED will instruct the user to connect the electrodes (pads) to the patient. Once the pads are attached, everyone should avoid touching the patient so as to avoid false readings by the unit. The pads allow the AED to examine the electrical output from the heart and determine if the patient is in a shockable rhythm (either ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia). If the device determines that a shock is warranted, it will use the battery to charge its internal capacitor in preparation to deliver the shock. This system is not only safer (charging only when required), but also allows for a faster delivery of the electrical current.