Defibrillators: Vital Life-Saving Tools Explained Simply

why is a defibrillator important

For years, there’s been a call for more public access to defibrillators. It’s because, like all first aidthey save lives and are relevantly easy to deploy.

Let’s look closer at the reasons why defibrillators are important and how to get better access to them.

What is an AED?

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a life-saving medical device that is designed to check a heart rhythm and then delivers a shock to restore a heart’s rhythm to a normal level. An AED is the only way to restart the heart during cardiac arrest.

Why is a defibrillator important?

CPR saves lives, no doubt about it. But, during a cardiac event, it’s not going to do much.

A defibrillator is the only piece of field equipment that treats cardiac arrest and is to be combined with CPR.

4 Reasons Why a Defibrillator is Important

Defibrillators save lives. Why not have a piece of life-saving equipment on hand? 

A Cardiac Arrest Can Happen to Literally Anyone

Heart attacks don’t care about age or even if someone has heart disease. Sudden cardiac arrest in younger people happens, but it is rare.

Public access to a defibrillator in schools is vital because, at any point, a child could have a cardiac event. 

Will I hurt the victim by using an AED?

An AED is purposefully made so that you can’t hurt someone. 

Unless the person’s heartbeat is irregular, the AED isn’t going to produce a shock (even if you push the button).

You’ll get audio and visual cues that will walk you through the entire process. Carefully follow them to protect the patient and to protect you.

A Defibrillator Ups the Chances of Survival


When someone goes into cardiac arrest, every minute that follows decreases their chances of survival by 7 to 10%.

A visible and accessible defibrillator increases the odds of survival. You’re also upping the odds of a better recovery.

Why is defibrillation important? Is there a 100% success rate?

Heart attacks kill people, even while they’re in the hospital. So, there’s no device or surefire way to always save someone from cardiac arrest.

But a defibrillator certainly gives someone a better chance of survival. 

Sometimes Poor Emergency Response Time

Ambulances and other emergency services don’t always respond as swiftly as we need. And when someone has a heart attack, you’ve got an 8-minute window for possible survival.

A defibrillator turns a bystander into an instant first responder and could mean the difference between someone surviving and dying.

Most Anyone Can Use a Defibrillator

Defibrillators are intimidating. But, if you can learn how to use a new phone and you can use an AED. Depending on the model, most are even more straightforward than that.

Most of your new defibrillators have voice prompts that walk you through each step. Just to be careful, they add easy-to-understand illustrations, flashing LED lights, and huge buttons.

Are you still unsure? That’s perfectly fine. The Red Cross offers an AED course along with their CPR class.

Still a bit wary? You can buy a practice AED and hone your life-saving skills. There are also new connected AEDs that provide medical direction in use.

Why is a defibrillator better than CPR?

CPR does nothing to stop a heart attack. It’s meant to keep someone’s blood circulating until help arrives.

A defibrillator is the only way to actually to restart the heart

How do I use an AED?

You would only use an AED on a non-rebreathing person at least 8 years of age or older and who weighs more than 55 pounds.

  1. Call 911 or have someone do it ASAP.
  2. Turn on the AED using the power button.
  3. Wait for it to power up and begin following the voice prompts. Those with hearing difficulty will use the written prompts and follow the LED lights.
  4. Remove clothing until you can access the victim’s chest.
  5. Open and attach the self-adhesive electrode pads directly to the patient’s skin.
    • You will attach one electrode pad one to the upper side of the person’s chest.
    • The other electrode pad goes to the lower side of the victim’s chest (a few inches under the armpit).
  6. In some cases, you will need to plug the pad connector into the AED yourself.
  7. Allow the AED to check the person’s heart rhythm.
  8. Ensure no one is touching the victim.
  9. You loudly and authoritatively shout the word’ ‘clear.’
  10. The AED will then instruct you to press the shock button to deliver the shock.

How many times can you defibrillate someone?

You can use a defibrillator as many times as you need, as long as you follow the same exact instructions every single time.

But, every time you do use a defibrillator on the victim, the chances of survival get lower.

What happens after I use a defibrillator?

After the shock has been delivered, you will perform CPR for two minutes using compressions. 

You will then check for a pulse for a normal heart rhythm.

Hopefully, an ambulance or first responder has arrived and can take over the scene. But, you can repeat the process and remember to follow the prompts.

Why would someone need a defibrillator in their heart? 

An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is an implantable medical device. People with cardiac issues like ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation require an ICD to regulate a too-fast heartbeat and supply adequate oxygen to the body.

What is the difference between a defibrillator and a pacemaker?

A pacemaker has a battery and helps the heart keep its healthy rhythm.

An ICD monitors the heart and will deliver a shock to the heart to restore a regular rhythm.

What is a wearable defibrillator?

If surgery scares you, a wearable cardioverter defibrillator sends a shock to your heart when it senses an abnormal rhythm. 

You wear it like a vest under your clothes, and it doesn’t take away from your quality of life.

How painful is a defibrillator?

Most people describe the experience as startling or jolting but not painful. But that’s not really surprising, given it’s built to deliver a literal jolt to restart the heart.

Why is defibrillation important to survival?

The only way you can restart someone’s heart to a normal rhythm is by using a defibrillator. CPR isn’t going to get the job done.

For every minute that goes by without treatment, a person’s chances of survival go down by up to 10%.

Should every home have a defibrillator?

Based on research, it’s never a bad idea to have a defibrillator in the home. 

It is vital for the elderly and those with heart diseases to have easy access to an AED. But, they aren’t the only people at risk.

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

By using an AED followed by CPR, you are doubling, and sometimes tripling, the chances of someone surviving a cardiac event.

You will want a defibrillator that is FDA-approved for personal use or at-home use. Always check the FDA-approved list before investing in an AED. 

How much does a defibrillator cost?

Defibrillators aren’t cheap by any means, but they are worth it, even if they save a single life. The price ranges from $1500 to $4000. 

Your average public access defibrillator will run around $2500. And the practice model costs $100.

More Defibrillator FAQs

Why is defibrillation important to survive?

Defibrillation is crucial for survival as it utilizes an electrical charge to halt the abnormal rhythm of the heart during cardiac arrest, enabling the heart to resume a normal rhythm.

When should a defibrillator be used?

A defibrillator should be used when a person is unconscious and not breathing properly, typically in cases of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. It is crucial to note that individuals in this condition may exhibit agonal breathing for a short period after their heart has ceased functioning.

How do defibrillators save lives?

Defibrillators save lives by checking the heart rhythm after applying two electrode patches to the person’s chest. If a shock is required, the defibrillator will administer it, which can help restore a normal heart rhythm.

Can you do CPR on someone with a defibrillator?

It is safe to perform CPR on someone with a defibrillator. The majority of pacemakers and ICDs (implantable cardioverter defibrillators) are placed in the upper left side of the chest. When administering CPR, chest compressions are applied to the center of the chest and should not cause any harm to a pacemaker or ICD that has been in position for a considerable period of time.

How effective are defibrillators?

Defibrillators are highly effective when combined with early bystander CPR and prompt defibrillation within less than 3 minutes after collapse. Without chest compressions or defibrillation, the chances of survival with an AED are close to zero. However, when these interventions are administered timely, the AED survival rate can reach as high as 74% for patients experiencing ventricular fibrillation.

How quickly do you need a defibrillator?

The patient needs a defibrillator as quickly as possible to have the best chance of surviving an out of hospital cardiac arrest. CPR and early defibrillation should be administered within the first 3-4 minutes of the cardiac arrest, followed by advanced life support within the first 8 minutes of the arrest.

What happens to your body when a defibrillator is used?

When a defibrillator is used, your body undergoes a process where the heart muscle momentarily ceases its movement, allowing for the generation of an electrical impulse that initiates a regular rhythm. Essentially, the purpose of defibrillation is to revive the heart.

What happens if you don’t have a defibrillator?

If you don’t have a defibrillator, performing CPR immediately can significantly increase a victim’s likelihood of survival. Pushing hard and fast at the center of the chest, at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute, can make a remarkable difference even in the absence of an AED.

Why is a defibrillator better than CPR?

A defibrillator is considered superior to CPR because it has the ability to restart the heart, unlike CPR which is only a temporary solution. According to a study, the combination of defibrillator and CPR increased the survival rate compared to CPR alone, with rates of 23% versus 14%. However, it is important to note that if one focuses solely on finding an AED and neglects CPR, valuable minutes that could save a life may be lost.

Does a defibrillator replace CPR?

A defibrillator does not replace CPR; instead, it is intended to restore the heart’s normal rhythm. While CPR helps to manually pump blood and deliver oxygen to vital organs during resuscitation efforts, both CPR and a defibrillator are essential for reviving a victim from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

What is the success rate of a defibrillator?

The average survival rate of a defibrillator, when combined with early bystander CPR and a defibrillation shock administered within 3 minutes of collapse, can reach as high as 74% for patients experiencing ventricular fibrillation. However, without chest compressions or defibrillation, the survival rate with a defibrillator is essentially zero.

When not to use a defibrillator?

The use of a defibrillator is not recommended in cases where the individual has an extremely slow heart rhythm or when their heart has stopped beating. It is only suitable for individuals with a rapid heart rate.

Does a defibrillator improve quality of life?

A defibrillator improves the quality of life by enabling people with heart disease to live longer and experience a significantly better quality of life, as evidenced by a recent study.

What are the benefits of installing a defibrillator?

The benefits of installing a defibrillator include significantly increasing someone’s chance of survival by using it to check the casualty’s heart rhythm and administer a shock if necessary before the arrival of an ambulance.

By Anita Brown

Anita Brown is our go-to contributor to our emergency preparedness website. Anita brings a wealth of personal experience and professional expertise to the table, having weathered several awful natural disasters. Anita is currently working towards obtaining her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification.