History of AED

History of AED

Over the centuries, medical technology has advanced greatly. Now, we have access to powerful devices that put the power of electricity on our hands to reset a patient’s heartbeat. It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but it’s very much a reality––and there’s probably one nearby in your office, gym, or school!

The automatic external defibrillator (AED) is a medical device used during cardiac arrest. By analyzing a patient’s heart rate, it can determine if a shock is needed to reset the heart’s rhythms and administer the shock with just the touch of a button.

AED therapy on cardiac arrest victim

Cardiac emergencies are, unfortunately, quite common. Over 356,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of hospitals each year in the United States. The more people who are prepared to intervene and help treat the patient when cardiac arrest occurs, the better! One of the most amazing things about AEDs is that, with proper training, almost anyone can operate them. The popularization of AEDs has revolutionized cardiac emergency care––and that’s just the beginning!

Whether you’re a medical professional who wants to learn more about the intriguing history of the profession or you’re a curious bystander looking to learn how to operate life-saving devices, studying AEDs is a great place to start. Keep reading to learn more about the history of AED, find out what AED stands for, who invented the AED, and much more.

What is AED?

So, what is AED and what does AED stand for? The AED medical abbreviation stands for an automated external defibrillator. AED therapy is the practice of using an automated external defibrillator to help patients whose hearts are not functioning properly. It is used by first responders and on-site trained professionals, but it can also be used by bystanders at the scene of the emergency. Responding to cardiac emergencies quickly is the key to a patient’s survival, so it is essential that AEDs are widely accessible and that as many people as possible are able to use them.

Cardiac arrest can happen anywhere, and so it is important that AEDs are everywhere! AEDs can be found in most public locations, from nursing homes, to schools, to corporate offices and even private homes. It is essential that AEDs are accessible, clearly marked, and easily located. With every minute that passes without defibrillation and/or CPR, the patient’s chance of survival decreases by 7-10%. No one wants to waste time searching for the device or trying to determine how to use it.

It is a common misconception that an AED defibrillator is dangerous and that the user or patient could become injured from the electric shock. However, the truth is that AEDs are very safe and effective. The shock that the unit emits is strong enough to affect a patient’s heart rhythm, but it is not strong enough to cause significant damage. AED operators should always ensure that they are clear of the victim when administering a shock, but even if they are somehow in contact with the victim, it is unlikely to cause harm.

The Beginning of AEDs

In the late 19th century, two physiologists in Switzerland discovered the technique we now know as defibrillation, when tiny electric shocks are administered to cause ventricular fibrillation. The first use of an external defibrillator on a patient was in 1947, when professor Claude Beck used a defibrillator to treat a 14-year-old suffering from a congenital chest defect. In the 1960s, a portable defibrillator was invented to be used in ambulances.

Key AED Contributions and Milestones

In the 40s, an electric defibrillator was successfully used on a human patient for the first time, operated by a cardiothoracic surgeon named Dr. Claude Beck in Cleveland, Ohio. This early electric defibrillator could only be used on an exposed heart, requiring operation to open the chest.

Improved closed-chest defibrillation was successfully performed on a human by Paul Zoll, a process that was successfully performed on a dog in 1954 by William Kouwenhoven and William Milnor.


Three doctors discovered that combining mouth-to-mouth breathing and chest compressions was an effective treatment, inventing the practice of CPR. In this year, the training manikin Resusci Anne was created to help teach people how to perform CPR.


If a high number of cardiac arrest occur outside of the hospital, shouldn’t treatment be accessible where the emergency is commonly occurring? It was this question that motivated Frank Pantridge to invent the first-ever portable defibrillator in Belfast in 1965. This invention revolutionized treatment, enabling more people to administer life-saving AED.


The automatic defibrillator as we know it today––which utilizes sensors to assess a patient for ventricular fibrillation and administer a shock––was invented in the late 1970’s by a group of scientists in Portland, Oregon.

What is an AED Machine?

Now that we’ve covered the early versions of AEDs, what is a defibrillator today? Thankfully, technology has advanced significantly since the earliest instances of defibrillation. Our modern automated external defibrillators are lightweight, portable devices that are user-friendly, safe, and effective. They are now commonplace in most public areas (and even some homes), so AED therapy is much more common. AEDs are FDA regulated and are a trusted, dependable tool. As long as the device is properly serviced and kept in good condition, AED reliability is high.

Portable AED machine

An AED is a powerful, computerized electronic device. Through a multi-step process, it can be used to assess and treat patients experiencing cardiac arrest. This is an overview of the process:

  1. Once the device is attached to the patient, a microprocessor inside the AED measures the patient’s heartbeat.
  2. The AED will analyze the data to determine whether an electric shock is needed.
  3. If it determines that a shock is necessary based on the patient’s heart rhythm, the device will let the user know.
  4. The device delivers an electric shock to the patient. Some AED models require the user to press a button before it administers the shock, but other devices will shock the patient automatically when it detects the need.

Modern automated external defibrillators are much easier to use than the original iterations of the devices. Our contemporary AED units are specially designed so that non-medical personnel are able to use them, so more members of our community are able to respond to cardiovascular emergencies. Most even have voice prompts and instructions built right into the device. Once the AED is powered on, it will give step-by-step instructions on operation, making it so that nearly anyone can use an AED safely with proper training. Some will even give CPR instructions and a metronome for chest compressions.

AED Use and Implementation

AEDs are the most popular device used to help treat sudden cardiac arrest in the medical field. But, why is defibrillation important? If sudden cardiac arrest is not treated immediately, it can lead to complications and often death. Defibrillation is a quick, effective way to help reset the heart during cardiac arrest and help the patient’s body recover. It enables first responders, emergency personnel, and even laypeople to aid victims and give them the best possible chance of survival.

Why is an AED needed?

The shock administered by an automated external defibrillator can help the patient’s heart regain normal function, allowing their blood to resume normal pumping and restoring regular breathing. Without an AED, it is less likely that the heart will be able to do so–AEDs are life-saving, important tools.

When should you use AED?

An automated external defibrillator should be used to treat sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart stops functioning normally, usually as a result of an issue in the heart’s electrical system. Sudden cardiac arrest can be characterized by sudden collapse, loss of consciousness, loss of pulse, and stopped breathing. It often occurs without warning. If you notice these symptoms, rapid treatment and AED therapy are key. Statistics show that 37.7% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests are witnessed by a non-medical bystander, and so it is important to be aware of the symptoms and know what to do in case you are ever the one nearby.

AED and CPR training is important to make sure you know how to use an AED properly and keep everyone safe, but just about anyone can use an AED. If you’re a bystander during a respiratory emergency, using an AED can be easier––and more effective––than administering CPR. Know that Good Samaritan laws protect you from being sued if you treat someone with an AED, just be sure to check that they are not wearing a bracelet, necklace, or other indicator marked “Do Not Resuscitate”.

If you have not been trained, you might wonder when to administer AED. It’s understandable that some people might be intimidated or hesitant to use the device since it delivers an electric shock. However, the benefits of successful AED treatment greatly outweigh the risks. If a cardiac emergency occurs, do not hesitate to use the device.

How to use an AED Machine

When you take a course and receive AED and CPR training, you’ll learn how to recognize the signs of sudden cardiac arrest and when AED use is appropriate. Overall though, these devices are fairly simple to use and can be successfully operated by anyone.

This is an overview of the steps of AED use:

  1. Turn on the device and begin following the prompts. Some devices use voice prompts, others have screens.
  2. Attach the sticky electrode pads to the patient’s chest. Proper placement of the AED electrode pads is essential. Most AEDs will have a diagram printed on the device that shows where to place the electrodes.
  3. Once the electrodes are attached, the AED will begin analyzing the heart rhythm.
  4. If it finds that a defibrillation shock is necessary, the AED will alert the user and administer the shock.

As with any medical emergency, it is important to call 911 and alert emergency responders of the situation. If you’re able to do so, start administering treatment and using an AED while you wait for first responders to arrive.

Sign Up For CPR AED Classes Today at SureFire CPR

Now that you’re familiar with the history of AED, take your knowledge to the next level and learn how to use one! Getting trained is an incredible way to help your community, build your resume, and learn life-saving skills. You never know when an emergency will occur––but you can prepare for the unexpected by learning CPR and AED use. Whether you’re a teacher, a security guard, a new parent, or just someone who is interested in broadening their knowledge, taking an AED and CPR course is a great way to learn something new and potentially save a life.

If you’d like to get certified, there’s no better choice than SureFire CPR’s CPR and AED classes. Our training will ensure you’re confident and comfortable using the AED, along with giving you some special considerations for its use. Our award-winning team of instructors has experience on the field as EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders. We share our real-world stories to make lessons engaging, entertaining, and educational. At SureFire, students receive hands-on training opportunities and personalized instruction. You’ll leave the classroom ready to make a difference with new skills, expertise, and confidence.

SureFire CPR offers accredited CPR, AED, and First Aid classes at a variety of days, times, and locations across Southern California. The course runs for about 4.5 hours. Students receive a same-day certification card that remains valid for 2 years.

Purchase an AED Machine

If you’d like to buy an AED machine for your business, community building, or other public space, you can purchase one directly from SureFire CPR. High-risk individuals might consider purchasing an AED for their home, too––after all, 69.8% of cardiac arrests occur at home. We offer a few different package tiers to help make the AED cost accessible for anyone who needs one. Head to our AED sales page or call us at 888-277-3143 to learn more.


When a patient is experiencing cardiac arrest, an AED can be used to help restore normal heart function. In very rare cases, it can be used to restart a stopped heart in conjunction with CPR. AEDs can be used on adults, children, and infants.

During cardiac arrest, the heart is not properly beating or pumping blood. An AED delivers an electric shock through the patient’s body to disrupt these abnormal heart functions, reset the heart’s rhythm, and restore a normal heartbeat. It also helps restart normal blood flow through the body.

Generally, AED pads should be placed on the front of the chest, one above the patient’s right nipple and one on the other side just below the chest. It’s important to note that AED pads should not be placed on body piercings. If the patient has piercings or metal jewelry near their chest, rescuers should place the AED pads about an inch away from the metal. Sometimes for children, pads can be placed in the center of the chest and the center of the back.

Yes, AED is sometimes a part of the CPR process. Not every instance of CPR utilizes an AED, but in emergency situations, an AED is an efficient and effective way to help treat patients undergoing cardiac arrest.

Both CPR and AED are parts of the first response process during respiratory emergencies, but they are not the same thing. An automated external defibrillator (AED) is an electrical device that restores a regular heartbeat with an electric shock, while cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a technique used to restore regular blood flow manually.

The battery in most AED units will last between 2 and 7 years. The pads also need to be replaced every 2 to 5 years. If you are responsible for maintaining an AED device, it’s a good idea to inspect it regularly to make sure it is in good working order.


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