Basic Life Support: Automated External Defibrillation (AED). ARC and NZRC Guideline 2010


  • Australian Resuscitation Council, New Zealand Resuscitation Council

This guideline is applicable to adults and children.


The importance of defibrillation has been well established as part of overall resuscitation, in conjunction with effective CPR. An AED must only be used for a victim who is unresponsive and not breathing normally. CPR must be continued until the AED is turned on and pads attached. The rescuer should then follow the AED prompts.

The time to defibrillation is a key factor that influences survival. For every minute defibrillation is delayed, there is approximately 10% reduction in survival if the victim is in cardiac arrest due to VF.1

The development of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) has made defibrillation part of basic life support. AEDs can accurately identify the cardiac rhythm as ‘shockable’ or ‘non shockable’.

Use of AED

AED use should not be restricted to trained personnel. Allowing the use of AEDs by individuals without prior formal training can be beneficial and may be life saving. Since even brief training improves performance, (e.g. speed of use, correct pad placement) it is recommended that training in the use of AEDs (as a part of BLS) be provided.2[Class A; LOE II, III-1, III-2, IV, extrapolated evidence]

The use of AEDs by trained lay and professional responders is recommended to increase survival rates in victims with cardiac arrest.2 Implementation of AED programs in public settings should be based on evidence of effectiveness in similar settings. Because population (e.g. rates of witnessed arrest) and program (e.g. response time) characteristics affect survival, when implementing an AED program, community and program leaders should consider factors such as location, development of a team with a responsibility for monitoring and maintaining the devices, training and retraining programs for those who are likely to use the AED, coordination with the local Emergency Services, and identification of a group of paid or volunteer individuals who are committed to using the AED for victims of arrest.2[Class A; LOE I, II, III-1, III-2, III-3, IV]

Deployment of home AEDs for high-risk individuals who do not have an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator), is safe and feasible and may be considered on an individual basis, but has not been shown to change overall survival rates.2[Class A; LOE 2, 3] Use of AEDs in public settings (airports, casinos, sports facilities, etc.) where witnessed cardiac arrest is likely to occur can be useful if an effective response plan is in place.2 An AED can and should be used on pregnant victims.

Use of an AED is reasonable to facilitate early defibrillation in hospitals.2 Studies to date have shown that AEDs are effective in decreasing the time to first defibrillation during in-hospital cardiac arrest.2

PAD placement – adults

Place pads on the exposed chest in an anterior-lateral position. Acceptable alternative positions are the anterior-posterior and apex-posterior. In large-breasted individuals it is reasonable to place the left electrode pad lateral to or underneath the left breast, avoiding breast tissue. All pads have a diagram on the outer covering demonstrating the area suitable for pad placement.1[Class A; LOE extrapolated evidence] Pad to skin contact is important for successful defibrillation. There may be a need to remove moisture or excessive chest hair prior to the application of pads but emphasis must be on minimising delays in shock delivery.1[Class A; LOE expert consensus opinion]

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Avoid placing pads over implantable devices. If there is an implantable medical device the defibrillator pad should be placed at least 8cm from the device.1 Do not place AED electrode pads directly on top of a medication patch because the patch may block delivery of energy from the electrode pad to the heart and may cause small burns to the skin. Remove medication patches and wipe the area before attaching the electrode pad.1

PAD placement – children

Standard adult AEDs and pads are suitable for use in children older than 8 years. Ideally, for children between 1 and 8 years, paediatric pads and an AED with a paediatric capability should be used. These pads also are placed in the same way as for an adult and the pads come with a diagram of where they should be placed.3


(Reproduced Courtesy of European Resuscitation Council)

If the AED does not have a paediatric mode or paediatric pads then the standard adult AED and pads can be used.2 Ensure the pads do not touch each other on the child's chest.3 This may require the one pad to be placed on the centre of the chest and the other one on the posterior lateral chest.

Defibrillation safety

Rescuers should follow the prompts. Care should be taken not to touch the victim during shock delivery. There are no reports of harm to rescuers from attempting defibrillation in wet environments.2[Class A; LOE extrapolated evidence] In the presence of oxygen, there are no case reports of fires caused by sparking when shocks were delivered using adhesive pads.2[Class A; LOE extrapolated evidence]