How to Use a Defibrillator


A defibrillator can be a lifesaving piece of equipment – but only if it is stored, maintained and operated correctly. Here is our guide to help you out.

What are defibrillators?

A defibrillator (also known as AEDs – automatic external defibrillators) is used to administer a short electric shock to a heart that has gone into an abnormal rhythm, allowing it to reboot.

Modern defibrillators will take a few seconds when connected up to the patient to analyse the heart rhythm, and then give audible and/or visual instructions to the operator to press the button, shocking the patient. In fully automatic models, the system delivers the shock without manual intervention.

A full defibrillator kit should include the monitor unit, electrode pads (usually sticky) and a battery, alongside simple instructions for use – usually pictorial with short text where necessary.


Many first aid courses do not incorporate defibrillator training (some do, however), so you will need to either take a supplementary course or spend time familiarising yourself with the unit and its use. Many models have an equivalent training unit or a special training setting, so you can practice with the actual model of defibrillator you are likely to use without risking accidental shock.


As with any health and safety equipment, your defibrillator needs to be easy to find and access. Locking it away in a rarely used office, or behind machinery or equipment makes it useless – in the event of an emergency requiring its use, every moment counts.


In time, the batteries and electrode pads that your defibrillator uses will expire or run down. Make inspecting your defibrillator kit part of your weekly or monthly walkthrough, and check that there are no warning lights or prompts showing. While you are there, check to make sure that there is nothing missing from the kit and that it has not been blocked off by anything. Set reminders when your batteries are about to expire, leaving plenty of time to source, order and take delivery of replacements.

Emergency use

To use the defibrillator in an emergency, follow the training that you have received and/or the instructions displayed on the defibrillator unit. General, non model-specific rules are:

  • Turn on the defibrillator using the on switch/green button
  • Take the electrode pads and place them on the chest of the patient as shown in image on the defibrillator/pads
  • Make sure that neither you nor anyone else touches the patient when the pads are attached
  • Once attached, the pads will assess the heart rhythm of the patient
  • When a shock is required, the unit will beep and or/display a prompt (automatic units will simply deliver the shock) – press the button to give the shock treatment
  • The unit will tell you to continue with CPR efforts or to deliver another shock
  • Continue with this until the patient regains consciousness, emergency medical assistance arrives and takes over, or the unit informs you that it needs to re-analyse.


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