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Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Everything You Need to Know

Key Points

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving technique used when a person's breathing or heartbeat has stopped due to various reasons such as drowning, choking, or drug overdose.
  • The process involves chest compressions and rescue breaths to circulate oxygenated blood to vital organs like the brain and heart.
  • Preparation for performing CPR includes taking a course, getting certified, practicing regularly, and keeping a reference guide handy.
  • The American Heart Association recommends the C-A-B method for CPR: compressions, airway, and breathing.
  • After CPR, the individual will need medical treatment for the cause of their cardiac arrest and may require time to recover.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (more commonly called CPR) is a life-saving technique that is used to revive someone who has stopped breathing and has no heartbeat, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is a critical skill that can make the difference between life and death in an emergency. Knowing how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation while someone else calls 911 can help save the life of a loved one, a co-worker, or even a stranger.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Everything You Need to Know

Key Points

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving technique used when a person's breathing or heartbeat has stopped due to various reasons such as drowning, choking, or drug overdose.
  • The process involves chest compressions and rescue breaths to circulate oxygenated blood to vital organs like the brain and heart.
  • Preparation for performing CPR includes taking a course, getting certified, practicing regularly, and keeping a reference guide handy.
  • The American Heart Association recommends the C-A-B method for CPR: compressions, airway, and breathing.
  • After CPR, the individual will need medical treatment for the cause of their cardiac arrest and may require time to recover.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (more commonly called CPR) is a life-saving technique that is used to revive someone who has stopped breathing and has no heartbeat, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is a critical skill that can make the difference between life and death in an emergency. Knowing how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation while someone else calls 911 can help save the life of a loved one, a co-worker, or even a stranger.

What Is Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) involves a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths to circulate oxygenated blood throughout the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. They note that the purpose of CPR is to maintain blood flow to vital organs such as the brain and heart — which can help prevent permanent damage or death. It is important to understand that CPR alone is not enough to restart the heart (according to the Mayo Clinic), but it can keep the person alive until more advanced medical interventions (like defibrillation and cardiac medications) can be administered.

According to the Mayo Clinic, CPR has the best chance of saving a life if someone starts it as soon as possible after the person has collapsed. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a helpful bystander, understanding the basics of CPR can help you be prepared to act in an emergency.

CPR can be performed on adults, children, and infants. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that everyone learn how to perform CPR in case of an emergency. Basic CPR training can usually be found by contacting a local hospital and typically includes learning how to recognize the signs of cardiac arrest, performing chest compressions, and administering rescue breaths.

Why Is CPR Done?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving technique that is performed when a person's breathing or heartbeat has stopped, according to the Cleveland Clinic. CPR is done to keep the blood flowing to vital organs until medical help arrives.

CPR should be performed immediately if a person is not breathing or has no heartbeat, according to the Mayo Clinic. The following are some situations where CPR may be required:

  • Someone collapses and is unconscious (which can happen for a number of reasons, including heat stroke and dehydration)

  • After a drowning

  • If someone who is choking falls unconscious

  • In the event of a suffocation

  • After an electrocution (if the electricity is no longer a danger)

  • In the event of a drug overdose

  • After sustaining a traumatic injury that causes significant blood loss (like the amputation or partial amputation of a limb, stabbing, or gunshot wound)

The Mayo Clinic states that it is important to note that CPR should only be performed on a person who is unresponsive and is either not breathing or has no heartbeat. If the person is responsive (awake and breathing), CPR is not necessary.

How Should I Prepare for CPR?

Preparing for CPR can help you act quickly and confidently in an emergency situation. Here are some steps you can take to prepare in case you ever have to perform CPR from the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association (AHA):

1. Take a CPR course

CPR courses are available through various organizations, including the American Red Cross and the AHA. These courses can teach you the proper techniques for performing CPR on adults, children, and infants. They can also teach you how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) and how to perform a Heimlich maneuver to help someone who is choking.

2. Get certified in CPR

After completing a CPR course, you can get certified in CPR. Certification shows that you have demonstrated the skills and knowledge necessary to perform CPR effectively. Certification is typically valid for two years, after which you will need to renew it. Recertification is recommended to refresh your skills and help you learn the latest techniques in CPR, according to the AHA.

3. Practice regularly

Like any skill, performing CPR requires practice. Consider practicing with a CPR manikin or attending a refresher course to keep your skills sharp.

4. Keep a CPR reference guide handy

In an emergency situation, it can be easy to forget the proper steps for performing CPR. Keeping a reference guide handy can help you remember what to do.

5. Stay calm

In an emergency situation, it's important to stay calm. Take a deep breath, assess the situation, and remember your training. Acting quickly and confidently can help save a life.

By taking these steps to prepare for CPR, you can be ready to act quickly and effectively in an emergency situation.

How to Do CPR?

CPR is an emergency procedure that can save a person's life by restoring their breathing and heartbeat, according to the AHA. Knowing how to perform CPR can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. Here's what you need to know to perform CPR correctly, according to current AHA guidelines:

  1. Check the scene: Before starting CPR, make sure the scene is safe for both you and the victim. Check for any potential hazards, such as broken glass or electrical wires, and move the victim to a safe location if possible and necessary.

  2. Check for responsiveness: Tap the victim's shoulder and shout, "Are you okay?" If the victim doesn't respond, call for emergency medical services (EMS) and start CPR immediately.

  3. Perform chest compressions: Place the heel of your hand on the center of the victim's chest, between the nipples, and place your other hand on top of the first. Press down firmly and quickly, compressing the chest by about 2 inches. Perform 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute.

  4. Open the airway: Tilt the victim's head back and lift their chin to open the airway. Check for any obstructions, such as food or vomit, and remove them if possible.

  5. Give rescue breaths: Pinch the victim's nose shut and give two rescue breaths, watching for the chest to rise with each breath. If the chest doesn't rise, reposition the head and try again.

  6. Repeat: Continue performing cycles of 30 compressions and 2 rescue breaths until EMS arrives or the victim begins breathing on their own.

Performing CPR can be physically exhausting, so if possible, switch off with another person every 2 minutes to maintain effective compressions.

The American Heart Association recommends using the letters C-A-B to help people remember the order to perform the steps of CPR:

  • C for compressions

  • A for airway

  • B for breathing

How to Perform CPR on a Child?

Performing CPR on a child can be a highly emotional task, but it is important to know what to do in case of an emergency.

Here are the steps to perform CPR on a child from the AHA:

  1. Check for responsiveness: Tap the child's shoulder and shout their name to see if they respond. If they do not respond, call for emergency medical services immediately.

  2. Open the airway: Tilt the child's head back and lift their chin to open their airway.

  3. Check for breathing: Look, listen, and feel for breathing for 5-10 seconds. If the child is not breathing, begin CPR.

  4. Perform chest compressions: Place the child on a flat surface and kneel beside them, near their neck and shoulders. Place two hands — or only one hand if the child is very small — on the lower half of the child's breastbone. Press straight down on the chest about 2 inches (approximately 5 centimeters) but not greater than 2.4 inches (approximately 6 centimeters). Push hard and fast — 100 to 120 compressions a minute.

  5. Give rescue breaths: Pinch the child's nose and give two rescue breaths while watching for the chest to rise.

Continue with cycles of 30 compressions and 2 rescue breaths until emergency medical services arrive or the child begins to breathe on their own.

How to Perform CPR on a Baby 4 Weeks Old or Older?

Infant CPR is slightly different because infants are so much smaller and more fragile. Here are the AHA recommendations for infant CPR:

  1. Check for responsiveness: Tap the baby's foot or shoulder and shout their name. If they don't respond, call for help immediately.

  2. Open the airway: Tilt the baby's head back slightly and lift their chin with two fingers.

  3. Check for breathing: Look, listen, and feel for breathing for no more than 10 seconds. If the baby is not breathing normally, start CPR.

  4. Perform chest compressions: Place two fingers on the center of the baby's chest, just below the nipple line. Press down about 1.5 inches at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.

  5. Give rescue breaths: Cover the baby's mouth and nose with your mouth and give two gentle breaths. Watch for the chest to rise and fall.

Continue cycles of compressions and breaths: Do 30 compressions followed by two breaths. Repeat until the baby starts breathing or help arrives. Remember to call for help as soon as possible and continue CPR until the baby starts breathing or help arrives.

What Happens After CPR?

While CPR can be a life-saving measure, it is not always successful in restarting the heart. If the person's heart does not start beating again after CPR, a medical team may declare them deceased. If the person's heart does start beating again, they will need medical treatment for whatever reason caused their cardiac arrest and may need some time for their body to recover, notes the AHA.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If the person is unresponsive, not breathing normally, and has no pulse, call 911 immediately. This is a medical emergency and time is of the essence.

If the person is conscious but experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of a heart attack, you should also call 911 right away. These symptoms may indicate a serious medical condition and prompt medical attention is necessary.

For a medical emergency, dial 911 or visit your closest emergency room immediately.


Frequently asked questions

  • Is cardiopulmonary resuscitation the same as CPR?

    Yes, CPR is the abbreviation for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

  • What are the 7 steps to CPR?

    According to the AHA, the 7 steps to CPR on an adult are as follows:

    • Check the scene for safety.
    • Check the person's responsiveness.
    • Call for help.
    • Open the person's airway and check for breathing.
    • If the person is not breathing normally, start CPR.
    • Perform chest compressions by pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of 100 - 120 beats per minute.
    • Give 2 rescue breaths into the mouth while pitching the nose shut. Then repeat compressions and rescue breaths until help arrives.
  • How long can you do CPR before someone dies?

    There is no specific time limit for performing CPR before someone dies, according to the AHA. However, they note that it is critical to initiate CPR as soon as possible after a person's heart stops beating to maximize the chances of survival. The longer the delay in starting CPR, the lower the likelihood of a successful outcome. Therefore, immediate and continuous CPR is essential until professional medical help arrives.

  • What are the three types of cardiopulmonary resuscitation?

    The three types of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), according to the American Heart Association are:

    • Hands-Only CPR: This involves providing chest compressions without rescue breaths, which can be effective in certain situations, especially for bystanders who are not trained in traditional CPR techniques.
    • Conventional CPR: This includes a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths, following the standard ratio of 30 chest compressions to 2 rescue breaths. Many times, people who perform this type of CPR have taken CPR training. If you have taken CPR training, you may also use an automated external defibrillator (also called an AED) to assist in basic life support.
    • Advanced Life Support (ALS): ALS involves the use of additional medical interventions and equipment (like a defibrillator) by trained healthcare professionals to support the patient's cardiovascular and respiratory systems during cardiac arrest.
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