Should You Perform CPR Before or After an AED?

Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening emergency that can strike anyone at any time and requires immediate action. In such a case, when someone’s heart stops beating and their lungs stop working, literally every second counts.

This is where CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) enters the frame as the go-to method of keeping someone alive until emergency medical professionals arrive.

In such critical situations, knowing the proper order of administering first aid protocols significantly impacts the victim’s chances of survival and subsequent recovery. In addition to CPR techniques, which require no equipment, an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is another essential tool you should use.

But should you perform CPR before or after using an AED? In this article, you’ll learn what each method is, how they interact during cardiac emergencies, and when to avoid combining them.

So, let’s get into it!

Understanding the Relationship Between CPR and AED

Before bringing the order of CPR and AED into perspective, let’s briefly understand what each technique consists of and what the primary goal behind using it is:

    • CPR, or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, is an emergency procedure you perform to stand in for the victim’s failed cardiovascular and/or respiratory systems. By performing chest compressions and rescue breaths, you ensure ongoing blood circulation and oxygenation of the blood to keep the vital organs alive until medical professionals can take over.

    • On the other hand, an AED, which stands for Automated External Defibrillator, is a portable device specifically designed to reset a stopped heart during sudden cardiac arrest. An AED will analyze the heart’s rhythm in real time and, if necessary, deliver an electrical shock to kick the heart back into rhythm.

Importance of Prompt Action

If there’s one thing we can’t stress enough, it’s that time is of the essence in any cardiac arrest situation. The sooner you begin administering CPR or hook up an AED to deliver a shock, the greater the chances of the victim surviving the event.

Time is of the essence because of the oxygen deprivation to the brain. If someone’s heart cannot pump blood longer than 5 minutes, even if you manage to revive the person successfully, they’ll suffer from significant brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. In cases where a cardiac arrest lasts more than 8 minutes, death is inevitable.

As you can see, the window to assist a victim suffering from sudden cardiac arrest is a small one, and you have to act immediately, using every tool at your disposal. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), CPR delivered by bystanders, when combined with early defibrillation by way of an AED, can more than double a victim’s chance of survival.

Performing CPR: What are the Steps?

CPR is a methodology developed to be efficient in keeping a victim of cardiac arrest or respiratory failure alive, but at the same time so simple that everyone can learn how to do it.

Still, the techniques have some intricacies, which is why CPR courses exist. While the awareness of CPR is relatively high, mainly due to the movie industry, understanding the order and execution of techniques can make a big difference if you ever need to rely on your skills.

CPR Preparation

Just jumping in and doing chest compressions on someone suffering a cardiac arrest is not how you should do CPR, and it won’t have the same effect. Instead, before you commence the procedure, you have a prep checklist to go through:

    • Check the Safety of the Scene. Ensure the area is safe and there’s no threat to yourself if you get near the victim.

    • Test the Victim’s Responsiveness. Check if the person responds to verbal commands, sound, or touch.

    • Call Emergency Services. If the person is unresponsive and doesn’t seem to be breathing normally, call for emergency medical help.

    • Open the Airway. Gently tilt the person’s head back and lift their chin.

    • Check for Breathing. Listen and look for signs of breathing. If there’s no breathing or you only hear gasping sounds, begin CPR.

Performing CPR

Two main techniques define CPR – chest compressions and rescue breaths. There’s an order to the process that you have to stick to for maximal effectiveness:

    1. Start with Chest Compressions. Place the heel of your hand on the center of the victim’s chest and interlock your fingers. Push hard and fast, keeping your elbows locked throughout the procedure. Compressions should be at least 2 inches deep, and you should aim to deliver 100-120 compressions per minute.

    1. Administer Rescue Breaths. After ensuring the airways open, pinch the nose with your hand and cover the victim’s mouth with yours, creating a seal. Give two rescue breaths after each set of 30 chest compressions, watching for the chest to rise.

    1. Do Not Stop. Switch between doing chest compressions and giving rescue breaths repeatedly until professional help arrives or an AED becomes available.

The Role of AED in Cardiac Arrest

An AED is a vital tool in the treatment of sudden cardiac arrest. Unlike CPR, the use of an AED has no impact on victims in respiratory distress, so you should only use one in cases where a person’s heart has stopped.

The device delivers a shock to the heart, stopping all activity. In cases of cardiac arrest, the heart is most often in a state of fibrillation, with its walls flickering but not contracting. The electric shock from the AED kickstarts the heart’s restart mechanisms by effectively stopping it from working completely for a very brief moment.

The AHA highlights the importance of early defibrillation with an AED, as it significantly improves the chances of survival. AED devices are intuitive to use and feature a user-friendly design that provides precise audio and visual instructions to guide you through the process.

Should You Perform CPR Before or After an AED?

The order of CPR and AED administration depends on the specific circumstances and whether there’s an AED available. The general consensus among experts is that if someone is unresponsive and not breathing or gasping, CPR should be initiated immediately.

The timing of AED use depends mainly on the availability of the device. If an AED is immediately accessible, you should obtain it (or have someone obtain it for you) and use it immediately. However, in many cases, an AED may not be readily available, and CPR remains the only option.

The order of rendering first aid to a person in cardiac arrest is by delivering CPR first, starting as quickly as possible. While you’re doing it, someone should retrieve an AED and prepare it for use so that there’s as little delay between stopping CPR and delivering the first shock as possible.

Since preparing an AEd for operations takes a minute or two, especially if you’ve never used it, you should start with CPR first. Follow the device’s prompts once the AED is in place and deliver a shock if indicated. After delivering the shock, resume CPR immediately.

If you’re the only person present at the scene, CPR takes priority – start immediately and continue until professional help arrives. Do not stop CPR to leave a victim unattended and retrieve an AED, even if one is within reach.


In conclusion, when faced with a cardiac arrest situation, the order of CPR and AED interventions features a clear order. There’s an easy answer to the question – should you perform CPR before or after an AED?

Immediate initiation of CPR is crucial in maintaining blood flow and oxygenation until an AED becomes available. If an AED is accessible, you should use it as soon as possible.

The primary goal is to provide prompt assistance and ensure the best possible chance of survival. If you’re ready to become equipped with the skills to respond effectively in emergency situations, contact us for easy enrollment in one of our CPR and AED courses in Atlanta!