Should You Perform CPR Before or After an AED?

If you ever find yourself in a situation where someone’s heart has stopped beating, knowing whether you should perform CPR before or after an AED can save a life. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Automated External Defibrillators are critical life-saving measures in emergencies, yet there’s a lot of confusion about their proper use.

For example, during a survey in several Chicago public schools, 41% of teachers didn’t know how to operate an AED. Despite their importance, not many people know how or when to use an AED, let alone how it fits with CPR in the chain of survival.

In this post, we’ll clear up the question “Should you perform CPR before or after an AED?” By understanding the correct steps, you’re better equipped to act effectively in a crisis, potentially making a life-or-death difference for someone in need.

Understanding CPR and AED

During 2020, there were 3,221 recorded cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in Chicago. That is a significant increase of 31.5% compared to 2019. Sudden cardiac arrest doesn’t think twice about who it affects and when, and it can happen during:

    • Overdosing

    • Drowning

    • Severe allergic reactions

    • Choking

    • Electrocution

    • Excessive bleeding

Knowing how to properly perform CPR and use an AED can make a life-saving difference.

CPR combines chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. First, you’re doing chest compressions, pressing down hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest to keep the blood flowing to vital organs. If CPR-trained, you provide rescue breaths to get oxygen into their lungs. It’s a stopgap but keeps the person alive until 911 arrives.

AED is a medical device designed to jolt the heart back to rhythm by giving it an electric shock. It sounds intimidating, but these devices are made to be user-friendly, often giving voice instructions to guide you through the process.

The Debate: Using CPR or AED First?

When faced with a situation where someone is in sudden cardiac arrest, the clock is ticking, and every second counts. It’s a high-pressure moment where you’ve got to make a quick decision: Do you start with CPR or rush to grab an AED? This debate isn’t just among laypeople. Even some healthcare professionals find themselves second-guessing in the heat of the moment.

The confusion stems from a mix of outdated and false information in medical dramas and a lack of clear guidance for those outside the medical field. Both CPR and AEDs are critical in the chain of survival for someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

Yet, the question remains: which should you prioritize? The answer isn’t as simple as we’d like. It depends on several factors, including:

    • Whether you’re alone

    • The setting (public place vs. at home)

    • If an AED is immediately available

Often, the argument leans towards using an AED first, if it’s readily accessible, because of its potential to restart the heart with an electrical shock. However, this doesn’t diminish the importance of CPR. If you’re the only person present and an AED isn’t within arm’s reach, starting CPR can double or even triple the victim’s chances of recovery.

Continuous chest compressions keep blood flowing, buying precious time until an AED can be retrieved or until professional help arrives. In public spaces, shouting for someone else to bring an AED while you begin CPR can be the best course of action. So, while the debate persists, the consensus among medical professionals emphasizes a swift, flexible response tailored to the situation at hand.

The Recommended Sequence

When you come across someone lying unresponsive, you first must ensure you’re not putting yourself in danger by approaching them. Once you’ve determined the scene is safe, try to get a response from the individual by loudly asking if everything is ok and gently tapping their shoulder.

If there’s no reaction, immediately call for emergency help or tell someone nearby to make the call. This is the critical first step in a life-saving process, and doing it fast can make all the difference. After calling for help, your next move depends on a quick assessment of the situation, specifically whether the person is breathing normally and if an AED is within reach.

Analyzing the Situation

Time is of the essence in these scenarios, so you need to quickly determine the person’s breathing state. If they’re not breathing normally or you can’t see their chest moving, preparing to use an AED or start CPR is necessary.

If an AED is immediately available, it’s your best shot at saving the person’s life, as in 67% of SCA cases where bystanders used a defibrillator, the victim survived. However, if an AED isn’t readily accessible, you’ll need to administer CPR while someone gets the AED or until emergency services arrive.

Applying the AED

If you’re lucky enough to have an AED nearby, don’t hesitate to use it. Turn it on and follow the instructions guiding you through the process. The AED will tell you where to place the pads on the person’s chest, and once they’re in place, the device will analyze the heart’s rhythm and instruct you to deliver a shock if necessary. You have to stand clear of the person while the shock is administered.

Anyone can use an AED regardless of their medical training, so trust the device and the instructions it provides. Administering a shock as soon as possible can be more effective than starting CPR first in cases of sudden cardiac arrest.

Starting CPR

In situations where an AED isn’t immediately available or while you’re waiting for someone to bring an AED, starting CPR is your next best option. If you’re trained in CPR and confident in your abilities, you can alternate between compressions and rescue breaths. If not, focus on continuous chest compressions until an AED is available or until an ambulance arrives.

Common Misconceptions About CPR and AEDs

A common myth you’ve probably heard is that you could do more harm than good by performing CPR or using an AED if you’re not a medical professional. This couldn’t be further from the truth — the victim’s chances of survival decrease by 7%-10% with every minute that passes without CPR. You might feel intimidated by the thought of using an AED, but the truth is they are simple to use.

There’s no need to worry about accidentally shocking someone who doesn’t need it, as AEDs are smart enough to analyze the heart’s rhythm and deliver a shock only if necessary. So, don’t let these misconceptions hold you back.

CPR Before Or After AED: Final Thoughts

So, should you perform CPR before or after an AED? The priority should alway be to take any action instead of hanging back and waiting for 911 to arrive. If an AED is available, use it right away. If there is no AED in sight, start doing CPR immediately until one is brought over or the ambulance arrives.

Every second counts in an emergency, and doing what you can with what you have available can help you save a life. Even if you’re nervous, your actions can make a monumental difference in someone’s life.

But to know how to act and what to do in an emergency can only be learned by attending CPR training classes in Chicago. Getting a CPR certification will ensure you know how and when to use an AED and perform CPR. Invest in yourself and enroll in a CPR training class in Chicago today!