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What is a defibrillator?

A defibrillator is an essential part in trying to save the life of someone whose heart has stopped beating normally. It is a portable medical device which provides a high energy electric shock to the person suffering a sudden cardiac arrest.

A cardiac arrest commonly happens because of a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation. The electrical impulses that control the heart become so chaotic that it stops beating.

To help someone survive, a defibrillator needs to be found quickly to re-start the heart’s normal rhythm. Their chances of survival lower with every minute that passes.

How to use a defibrillator

Did you know that anyone can use a defibrillator? You don’t need training. They come with clear, step-by-step instructions.

If you see someone who may be having a sudden cardiac arrest, call 999 and start CPR. Ask the emergency operator where to find the nearest defibrillator.

Once you have the defibrillator, turn it on and continue CPR until it tells you to stop. It will give you clear instructions on how to attach the two adhesive pads to the patient’s bare chest.

Through the pads, the defibrillator can check the heart rhythm and will only tell you to shock if it’s needed. Don’t worry – you can’t shock someone accidentally.

After a shock has been given, the defibrillator will ask you to continue with CPR. It will then ask you stand back while it checks the heart rhythm again and will give a further shock if needed.

Modern defibrillators are reliable, safe and present a minimal risk of a rescuer receiving a shock. They don’t need much maintenance or servicing; most perform daily self-checks and display a warning if they need attention.

Most defibrillators have a minimum life-expectancy of 10 years, and the batteries and pads have a shelf-life which varies by manufacturer but is typically between two and five years.