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CPR vs. AED Training: What’s the Difference?

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Each day in the U.S., over 1,000 people suffer from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Of those, only 10% survive. It’s important to know how to recognize the signs of SCA to deliver treatment and provide the best chance of survival with CPR and an AED. If someone is not breathing normally or is unresponsive, you need to assume there has been a cardiac emergency. If you are in a situation where someone is experiencing SCA, delivering CPR and using an AED device can be the difference between life and death—and knowing when to use each of them is vital. 

Let’s discuss the difference between the two life-saving procedures, what’s involved, and how to implement them.


CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and is a method for manually pumping blood to a person’s vital organs and breathing air into their lungs when their heartbeat or breathing has stopped. When the vital organs stop receiving blood, they begin to fail within a short time. Keeping the blood flowing to those organs is critical, and can sustain them until help arrives. SCA can strike anywhere at any time, so CPR training is a vital skill for anyone to have.


An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is a machine used to treat SCA, a life-threatening condition where the heart suddenly stops beating properly. By sending an electric shock to the heart of a person in cardiac arrest, the AED restores a normal heart rhythm. AEDs are designed for use by laypersons with little training. AEDs are “automated” and perform heart rhythm analysis to determine whether or not someone needs a shock. Every minute that a person suffering from Sudden Cardiac Arrest does not receive a defibrillation shock from an AED, their chances of survival decrease by 7-10%. 

Sudden Cardiac Arrest leads to death within minutes if the victim does not get help immediately. Survival from SCA depends on the quick actions of people nearby calling 911, starting CPR, and using an AED as soon as possible.

When to Give CPR and When to Use an AED

It is important to know both how to perform CPR and how to use an AED, and which one is right for a particular situation. If you see someone collapse suddenly and they are not responsive, you must immediately call 911, begin CPR, and use an AED to restart their heart.

When to Give CPR

If a person has stopped breathing, or if their heart has stopped beating, it is imperative to perform CPR as soon as possible. CPR is a way to manually pump blood to the victim’s vital organs and provide air to their lungs until trained emergency professionals arrive. This can prevent serious damage to vital organs and can save a person’s life. The worst thing you can do when someone is suffering from SCA is nothing! Hands-only CPR, even if it’s not performed perfectly, greatly increases a person’s chances of survival. 

It is important to know when to begin CPR on a person in distress. CPR should be administered if:

  • The person is unresponsive
  • The person’s heart has stopped beating
  • The person is not breathing 

The person is exhibiting insufficient breathing that often sounds like snoring, snorting, gasping, or labored breathing. The person will appear to be choking or having an involuntary gasp reflex. This is called agonal breathing and is not normal breathing.

The steps below will guide you through how to perform hands-only CPR and teach you this simple skill that can save a life. CPR should be administered continuously until emergency personnel arrive.

how to perform hands-only CPR

When to Use an AED

An Automated External Defibrillator or AED is a medical device that delivers a defibrillation shock to a person in Sudden Cardiac Arrest in order to restart their heart into a normal rhythm.

These are the most important things you need to know about using an AED: 

  • The AED will read the person’s heart rhythm for arrythmias and determine if they need a defibrillation shock- AEDs will only deliver a defibrillation shock to people who need it
  • Anyone should feel comfortable using an AED, including you! 
  • The AED will provide you with clear audio and visual instructions
  • Using an AED is the only way to restart the heart of a person in Sudden Cardiac Arrest

The steps below will guide you through how to use an AED:

In this video, Jason Grady, Systems Manager, Emergency Cardiac Care, Northside Hospital explains how defibrillation works: 


Cardiac arrest and heart attacks are emergency medical conditions that require fast action and quick thinking. In the event of these emergencies, it’s best to have the right training and equipment. An AED is the only tool that can restart the heart in the event of cardiac arrest.

CPR and AED training takes just a short amount of time. To receive CPR training and learn how and when to use an AED, you can go to your local hospital, health care provider, or fire station to find a class. You can also look online to find courses in your area.

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