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What’s The Difference Between A Defibrillator And An AED?

Published on 31st July 2023

Defibrillation can be a life-saving intervention in critical situations like cardiac arrest. However, it’s important to understand the difference between a defibrillator and an AED (Automated external defibrillator) to make informed decisions about their usage. Although they have many similarities, the main distinction between a Defibrillator and an AED is the training required to use them. AEDs are designed to be used by anyone, while manual defibrillators require advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) training.

There are two main types of defibrillators available – manual and automatic. This table explains the key differences between the two – including the kind you’ll most commonly find for use by the public.

What do defibrillators do? 

Defibrillators are medical devices that help to re-start the heart when it stops pumping due to a sudden cardiac arrest. Manual and automatic defibrillators are used externally – internal defibrillators (also known as Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators or ICDs) are fitted by surgeons to automatically re-start the heart through restoring a normal heartbeat if they detect an electrical issue. 

The inner working of a defibrillator is complex and difficult to understand, but in simple terms all defibrillators deliver an electric current to the heart which mimics the heart’s natural electrical function, restoring normal rhythm. The controlled, high-energy electric shock (which is adjusted either automatically by the machine itself, or manually by a doctor) is delivered through the patient’s chest via sticky electrode pads. Sometimes multiple uses are needed to properly restart the heartbeat. 

When the heart stops due to SCA blood stops pumping around the body to vital organs, including the brain. During the vital seconds and minutes while the heart is stopped damage to the brain and other organs and tissues can quickly occur. 

Defibrillators offer a real lifeline for anyone suffering an SCA – when deployed within the first minute they can offer a 90% survival rate – but chances of survival diminish by 10% with every additional minute that passes. Defibrillators offer a swift and reliable response which saves many lives each year. 

What is a manual defibrillator?

Manual defibrillators are specifically designed for use by medical professionals including doctors, paramedics and first responders. Manual defibrillators have advanced capabilities and features that AEDs do not have, as they enable the user to determine the exact issue with the heart and alter the settings of the defibrillator to treat it appropriately. 

In certain circumstances when an AED has been used by a member of the public, a paramedic or emergency responder will use a manual defibrillator when they arrive on scene to continue treatment. 

You can’t mistake a manual defibrillator for an AED – only AEDs are easily accessible and available in public environments, and usually feature screens and bright colours to make them easy to locate and use. 

What is an automatic defibrillator? 

Our automatic defibrillators (AED for short) have been specially designed to be easily used by members of the public – non-medical personnel. They are fitted with intelligent technology that automatically detects electrical issues with the heart through sensors placed on the body, enabling it to deliver appropriate treatment and clear step-by-step instructions for those using it. AEDs are lightweight, portable battery-operated devices so they can easily be transported where they are needed and should be easily accessible to the public. 

Many people mistakenly believe that they can make a life-threatening mistake with an AED or that specialist experience is needed to use one – confusing them with manual AEDs. This is one of the most remarkable things about AEDs – they can be used by anyone (even people with no prior experience or first aid training) and are effectively fool-proof. AEDs will not deliver a shock to the heart if one isn’t needed. There are many more facts and misconceptions surrounding AEDs – some of which we’ve covered here

AEDs all function in the same way, but different models are available designed for specific settings. Some models come with specialist additional features which make them more appropriate for different adverse environments. 

Choosing the right AED 

Although AEDs all work in the same way (an AED of any kind is better than none at all), it’s important to choose the correct model for the setting in which you plan to use one. 

At Martek Lifecare we provide specialised AEDs for a variety of public settings – from schools and educational facilities to sports centres and leisure complexes. Our defibrillators come in a range of sizes and capabilities with a variety of battery capacities available. Certain AEDs are more suited to adverse environments such as marine settings, aircraft and military facilities featuring dust-proofing, full colour screen instructions and award-winning robust design. 

How to use an AED 

It’s important to call 999 or your local emergency number before you begin to use the AED. 

To use an AED, follow these steps: 

  1. Turn on the AED. 
  1. Place the pads on the person’s chest. 
  1. Follow the instructions on the AED. 
  1. Do not touch the person while the AED is delivering a shock. 
  1. Continue to follow the AED’s instructions until help arrives. 

See our chain of survival guide for more detailed information.

AED maintenance 

Although some AEDs can self-test, they still require regular maintenance to ensure that they are functioning properly and are ready for use in an emergency.  This may include regular testing of the device, replacing batteries and electrode pads, and keeping the device in a location where it is easily accessible in case of an emergency. 

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintaining your defibrillator or AED. If you are unsure about how to properly maintain your device, contact the manufacturer or a trained professional for guidance. 

 Shop our Lifeline range or for more tailored advice on AED selection, get in touch with our friendly team today. 

FAQ about AEDs and Defibrillators 

What are the benefits of using an AED? 

AEDs are easy to use and can be used by anyone, even if they have no medical training. They are also relatively inexpensive, making them accessible to many people. 

When should I use an AED? 

Call 999 immediately, if you notice someone who is unconscious and not breathing. Then, use an AED to resuscitate them. You can also use an AED if you see someone who is having a seizure and does not regain consciousness after a few minutes. 

What happens after I use an AED? 

The person who was treated should be taken to a hospital for further evaluation.

Can an AED be used on a child? 

Yes, AEDs can be used on children. If paediatric pads are available, this is preferable, as they are smaller and designed for children. If you only have access to adult pads, these can still be used on a child under the age of 8; simply place one pad in the center of the chest and one pad in the centre of the back between the shoulder blades when using adult pads on a child. 

Can an AED be used on a pregnant woman? 

Yes, AEDs can be used on pregnant women. Remember to place the pads on the woman’s chest, not on her abdomen. 

What if I am afraid to use an AED? 

It is perfectly normal to be afraid to use an AED. However, it is important to remember that using an AED is better than doing nothing. If you are afraid to use an AED, ask someone else to do it for you. 

What are the risks of using an AED? 

The risks of using an AED are very low. The AED is designed to give a shock only where necessary. The real danger is in not using one, where available. 

Where can I find an AED? 

AEDs are often found in public places such as schools, community centres, airports and train stations. You can also purchase AEDs for your home or business.