Defibrillator Precautions


Defibrillation administers an electric shock through the chest wall to the heart of a sudden cardiac-arrest victim. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that, although there are no statistics available on the exact number of cardiac arrests that occur each year, it is estimated that more than 95 percent of victims die before reaching the hospital. AHA also reports that when defibrillation is provided within five to seven minutes, the survival rate can be as high as 30 to 45 percent. While this is a life-saving practice, there are precautions which should be followed.


Defibrillation is performed to correct life-threatening arrhythmias of the heart including ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest. To be effective, this procedure should be performed immediately after a patient experiences an irregular or deficient rhythm of the heart, which may be indicated by lack of pulse and response. The defibrillator resets the electrical activity of the heart allowing it to regain control of the rhythm.


Defibrillation should not be performed on anyone who has a pulse or is alert. This could result in a fatal heart rhythm disorder or cardiac arrest. Defib paddles should not be placed directly on a victim’s chest or over an internal pacemaker. Proper placement should be on the patient’s lower left and upper right sides or lower right and upper left sides of the chest.


Since moisture can make certain parts of the chest less resilient and the defibrillation not as effective, the patient’s chest should be completely dry. If in a pool area or outside in wet weather, the patient should be taken to a safe shelter and the chest dried before proceeding with defib. Alcohol should not be used to dry the chest because of its high flammability.

Visual Check

The patient’s chest needs to be free of nitroglycerine patches or any other medical patches or materials that may cause explosion when in contact with the defibrillator. The victim should not be lying on a conductive surface such as metal bleachers or sheet metal that may transmit shock to individuals in close proximity. Defibrillation should never taken place if close to flammable supplies such as gasoline or open oxygen.

Touching the Patient

No one should touch the patient during defibrillation since this could result in someone receiving an electrical shock. Also, coming in contact with the individual while the defibrillator performs its analysis will result in inaccurate readings and prompts from the machine.

Cell Phones/Portable Radios

All cell phones and portable radios should be kept at least six feet from the patient and the defibrillator. These devices may also influence the machine’s analysis resulting in inaccurate results and prompts.

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