Understand the Difference Between CPR and AED + When To Use CPR vs. AED

Understanding the Difference Between CPR and Automated External Defibrillation (AED)

Heart problems are the leading cause of death in the US and have been on the list for years. Sudden cardiac arrest, heart attacks, and other heart problems are common causes of death worldwide. Unless a person does often checkups at the doctor, it could be difficult to anticipate or prevent the heart problem in advance.

A person suffering from cardiac arrest will need immediate medical assistance. If no hospitals are near them, passersby will have to help them by using AED or CPR.

Today’s article aims to help you understand the difference between CPR and automated external defibrillation while also discussing which one should be used in case someone is experiencing a cardiac arrest. Here’s more information on the topic and instructions on how to help someone using an AED or CPR.

What is CPR?

CPR is short for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Even if you have not heard of the longer name, you have surely heard the acronym. People often talk about how important it is to know CPR, even from a young age, as it can save a life.

CPR involves chest compressions one would perform on someone who has gone into cardiac arrest, stopped breathing, or is unresponsive due to an unknown reason. At a time when the heart cannot function properly on its own, chest compressions and rescue breaths help keep the blood pumping through the body and deliver enough oxygen to the brain and organs.

What is AED?

AED stands for an automated external defibrillator. The defibrillator is a device you would use to jumpstart someone’s heart if they have suffered cardiac arrest, are having trouble breathing, or have suddenly collapsed and are unresponsive.

You should be able to find this device in most public places. It is entirely automated and can tell you whether a patient needs an electric shock and how to do it. Even if you do not know how to use the device, you can rely on it to guide you through the process with its detailed instructions.

What is the Difference between CPR and AED?

CPR and AED are terms that you would often see used together as they have a similar purpose. One is used to jumpstart the heart, whereas the other is used to help the heart continue pumping blood and delivering oxygen to the rest of the body to avoid significant brain damage and even death.

While CPR and AED are similar in many ways, you must also understand the difference between CPR and AED. Here are the key differences between the two:

      • Manual/Automated – Chest compressions are always manual, meaning an actual person needs to perform them on a patient using their hands. As for AED, the device is automated, gives instructions, and creates the electro-shock that helps jumpstart the heart. To use it on a patient, a person must plug it in, set the pads, and press a button to start the shock.

      • Efficiency – Although CPR and AED are incredibly efficient, AED is considered more efficient because it can jumpstart the heart even if it has completely stopped working. CPR only mimics the heart’s beating until medical personnel takes over, locates, and eliminates the heart problem.

      • Knowledge/Technique – CPR and AED require some previous knowledge, but CPR also demands proper technique and experience. To perform CPR on someone, you must know proper hand and body positioning, compression-to-breath ratio, compression rates, etc. As for AED, the device will share all the needed instructions, so you do not need any previous knowledge to use it.

    What to Use First – CPR or AED?

    If you witness someone having a cardiac arrest, you must take action as soon as possible. According to the American Heart Association, the quicker you react and start compressions, the higher the victim’s survival rate. But if you have both CPR and AED as available options, how do you know which one to choose?

    These two options are not competing- they work in tandem to give the patient a higher chance of survival. If both are available, you should combine them. Which one you use first depends on the situation.

    If you are alone with the patient, first call 911. If a defibrillator is within reach, you can get it and use it even before you begin chest compressions. If bringing a defibrillator to the patient takes more than 5 minutes, you should go with CPR instead.

    Another scenario is when you have one or more people nearby that can assist you. If you know how to do CPR, you can get started immediately while instructing another person to call 911 and run for the defibrillator. Once the person brings you the device, you can hook it up to the patient to see if they need an electric shock. After using the device, go back to doing CPR as you await the ambulance.

    So, it comes down to the specific situation and its circumstances. Try to assess the situation quickly and start helping the patient as soon as possible so you do not waste any precious time.

    When to Use CPR and When to Use AED?

    A question that bothers many people is when to use CPR and when to rely on automated external defibrillation to bring the patient back to life. Here is how you can determine when to use one or the other option:

    When to Use CPR?

    You would use CPR if there is no defibrillator close to you, but you see a person suffering from cardiac arrest or becoming unresponsive. Instead of running around looking for the device, you should start with chest compressions immediately, but only after calling 911. Here is a guide on how to do chest compressions:

        1. Put the patient on their back and remove all clothes from the top half of their body.

        1. Sit on the patient’s side but as close to them as possible, without leaning over their body.

        1. Place your hands in the middle of the patient’s chest, with one hand placed right above the other and the fingers interlaced. Ensure your arms are straight and you do not bend your elbows.

        1. Start doing compressions. You need to do two compressions per second or 100 to 120 compressions per minute. After 30 compressions, do two rescue breaths. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is not mandatory, so you can stick to hands-only CPR or chest compressions if you are uncomfortable doing rescue breaths.

        1. Continue doing compressions until medical personnel reaches you. Stop only if you need to hook a defibrillator to the patient and shock their heart – more on that in the next section.

      When to Use an AED?

      You would need to use automated external defibrillation on a person with heart problems as soon as they collapse or go into an unresponsive state. However, the AED must be close to you. If not, you will need to start CPR and have someone else bring the device to you. Here is how to use the device:

          1. Turn on the defibrillator. Read all provided instructions on how to use it before attaching the pads to the patient.

          1. Remove all clothes from the person’s top half of the body while also removing any jewelry or piercings they might have.

          1. Attach one of the pads to the upper right side of the chest or just an inch below the collarbone. Then, attach the other pad to the left side of the person’s chest, just below the armpit. Usually, the pads have instructions on them, so you should check which one goes on the chest and which goes near the armpit.

          1. After attaching the pads, let the defibrillator check the heart and tell you if the person needs to be shocked.

          1. If the machine decides the person needs an electric shock, it will automatically charge and tell you when to press a button to start the shock. After the shock, remove the pads and begin doing compressions.

          1. If the machine says the person does not need the shock, immediately remove the pads and continue administering CPR.


        CPR and AED can help a person’s heart return to a proper rhythm. They work best when combined instead of used separately, so remember that you should not use one instead of the other because you prefer it or consider it easier.

        It is always a good idea to learn how to administer CPR and use an AED while also aiming to understand the difference between CPR and AED. You can enroll in an actual class that teaches the two or try an online course that offers certification upon completion.

        No matter what you end up choosing, you will give yourself useful knowledge that you can use to help save someone’s life. After all, nothing is better than knowing that you have kept a family from losing their loved one!