Lifesaving knowledge: An AED Primer

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Learn how to use an AED now so you know what to do should you find yourself in the middle of an emergency.

It’s a normal day and you’re walking to a meeting at work, strolling through the mall with a friend, or enjoying a meal at a favorite restaurant. Suddenly, a person near you clutches his chest and collapses – he’s having a heart attack. Just like that, you’re in the middle of a cardiac emergency.

What should you do to help?

In Dallas and throughout Texas, many public places have a device on hand that could potentially safe a life: an automated external defibrillator, or AED. This device administers an electric shock to a person’s system during cardiac arrest, when the heart stops pumping blood throughout the body. Nowadays, AEDs are routinely stationed in airports, gyms, malls, and other public areas. 

Using an AED may sound intimidating, but the devices are simple to operate and designed so that anyone can use one if needed. Learning how to use an AED now will save precious time if you are ever in the middle of an emergency. You’ll know exactly what to do.

In the photos below, Micki Lacker, RN, a Nurse Practitioner in Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, teams with a volunteer to demonstrate how easy it is to use an AED to save a life. In the video, listen to UTSW Internal Medicine Professor Mark Link, M.D., discuss with Digital Communications and Social Media Manager Kristen Holland Shear how and when to use an AED.

Step 1: Call 911

If you see someone collapse, call 911 immediately. If there are other people around, choose someone specific and instruct him or her to call and explain the situation. This decreases confusion about who should do what and ensures the call is being placed.

Step 2: Check the victim’s consciousness

If someone has collapsed, you should immediately determine whether he or she is conscious. If the person is conscious, you know he or she has a pulse.

If the person is not conscious, begin CPR by performing between 100 and 120 chest compressions per minute. Compressions performed to the beat of “Row Row Row Your Boat” fall right into this crucial range.

AED step three - locate emergency defibrillator
Step 3: Locate an AED and ask someone to administer CPR.

Step 3: Locate an AED and ask someone to administer CPR

Ask a bystander to take over CPR while you apply the AED chest electrode pads to the victim. Uninterrupted CPR is an important factor in increasing the recovery rate of cardiac arrest patients. Always ensure that someone is providing CPR for the victim unless the AED machine is actively analyzing or shocking the victim. CPR should not be interrupted while the adhesive electrode pads are being applied.

AED defibrillator step four
Step 4: Open and turn on the AED.

Step 4: Open and turn on the AED.

Remove the AED from the case. Peel off the security tape and remove the contents. The AED will start giving you verbal instructions. 

AED defibrillator step five
Step 5: Prep the pads.

Step 5: Prep the pads.

Remove the two AED pads from their sterilized packaging. Peel the back off the AED pads, exposing the adhesive side.

AED defibrillator step six
Step 6: Attach the AED pads to the patient’s bare chest. Important note: the pads must be attached to bare skin, not on clothing.

Step 6: Attach the AED pads to the patient’s bare chest

Ensure that the adhesive AED pads are attached to a cable, which is plugged into the AED machine. Then, bare the victim’s chest, male or female, and attach the adhesive AED pads in the appropriate locations. The AED should include a diagram (typically on the adhesive pads themselves) indicating where each pad goes.

AED defibrillator step eight instructions
Step 8: Always follow the instructions of the AED.

Step 7: Wait as the AED analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm

Step 8: Always follow the instructions of the AED.

If the AED voice prompt recommends that you deliver a shock to the person, make sure that no one, including you, is touching the person – and tell everyone to “stand clear.” Once clear, press the “shock” button.

Step 9: Continue CPR

Administer CPR again if still needed after the shock. If the person is now responsive or is now breathing, discontinue CPR and monitor breathing for any changes in condition.

Still have some questions? Check out the video to see an AED in action:

UT Southwestern Internal Medicine Professor Mark Link, M.D., explains how and when to use an AED.

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