Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a lifesaving technique useful in many emergencies, including heart attack or near drowning, in which someone’s breathing or heartbeat has stopped. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone — untrained bystanders and medical personnel alike — begin CPR with chest compressions.
It’s far better to do something than to do nothing at all if you’re fearful that your knowledge or abilities aren’t 100 percent complete. Remember, the difference between your doing something and doing nothing could be someone’s life.
Here’s advice from the American Heart Association:
- Untrained. If you’re not trained in CPR, then provide hands-only CPR. That means uninterrupted chest compressions of about 100 a minute until paramedics arrive (described in more detail below). You don’t need to try rescue breathing.
- Trained and ready to go. If you’re well-trained and confident in your ability, begin with chest compressions instead of first checking the airway and doing rescue breathing. Start CPR with 30 chest compressions before checking the airway and giving rescue breaths.
- Trained but rusty. If you’ve previously received CPR training but you’re not confident in your abilities, then just do chest compressions at a rate of about 100 a minute. (Details described below.)
The above advice applies to adults, children and infants needing CPR, but not newborns.
CPR can keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs until more definitive medical treatment can restore a normal heart rhythm.
When the heart stops, the lack of oxygenated blood can cause brain damage in only a few minutes. A person may die within eight to 10 minutes.
To learn CPR properly, take an accredited first-aid training course, including CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). If you are untrained and have immediate access to a phone, call 9-1-1 before beginning CPR. The dispatcher can instruct you in the proper procedures until help arrives.
Before starting CPR, check:
- Is the person conscious or unconscious?
- If the person appears unconscious, tap or shake his or her shoulder and ask loudly, “Are you OK?”
- If the person doesn’t respond and two people are available, one should call 911 or the local emergency number and one should begin CPR. If you are alone and have immediate access to a telephone, call 911 before beginning CPR — unless you think the person has become unresponsive because of suffocation (such as from drowning). In this special case, begin CPR for one minute and then call 911 or the local emergency number.
- If an AED is immediately available, deliver one shock if instructed by the device, then begin CPR.
Remember to spell C-A-B
The American Heart Association uses the acronym of CAB — compressions, airway, breathing — to help people remember the order to perform the steps of CPR.
Compressions: Restore blood circulation
- Put the person on his or her back on a firm surface.
- Kneel next to the person’s neck and shoulders.
- Place the heel of one hand over the center of the person’s chest, between the nipples. Place your other hand on top of the first hand. Keep your elbows straight and position your shoulders directly above your hands.
- Use your upper body weight (not just your arms) as you push straight down on (compress) the chest at least 2 inches (approximately 5 centimeters). Push hard at a rate of about 100 compressions a minute.
- If you haven’t been trained in CPR, continue chest compressions until there are signs of movement or until emergency medical personnel take over. If you have been trained in CPR, go on to checking the airway and rescue breathing.
Airway: Clear the airway
- If you’re trained in CPR and you’ve performed 30 chest compressions, open the person’s airway using the head-tilt, chin-lift maneuver. Put your palm on the person’s forehead and gently tilt the head back. Then with the other hand, gently lift the chin forward to open the airway.
- Check for normal breathing, taking no more than five or 10 seconds. Look for chest motion, listen for normal breath sounds, and feel for the person’s breath on your cheek and ear. Gasping is not considered to be normal breathing. If the person isn’t breathing normally and you are trained in CPR, begin mouth-to-mouth breathing. If you believe the person is unconscious from a heart attack and you haven’t been trained in emergency procedures, skip mouth-to-mouth breathing and continue chest compressions.
Breathing: Breathe for the person
Rescue breathing can be mouth-to-mouth breathing or mouth-to-nose breathing if the mouth is seriously injured or can’t be opened.
- With the airway open (using the head-tilt, chin-lift maneuver), pinch the nostrils shut for mouth-to-mouth breathing and cover the person’s mouth with yours, making a seal.
- Prepare to give two rescue breaths. Give the first rescue breath — lasting one second — and watch to see if the chest rises. If it does rise, give the second breath. If the chest doesn’t rise, repeat the head-tilt, chin-lift maneuver and then give the second breath. Thirty chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths is considered one cycle.
- Resume chest compressions to restore circulation.
- If the person has not begun moving after five cycles (about two minutes) and an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, apply it and follow the prompts. Administer one shock, then resume CPR — starting with chest compressions — for two more minutes before administering a second shock. If you’re not trained to use an AED, a 911 or other emergency medical operator may be able to guide you in its use. If an AED isn’t available, go to step 5 below.
- Continue CPR until there are signs of movement or emergency medical personnel take over.
Billie Nicholson, editor