Ideally, everyone should know cardiopulmonary resuscitation, also known as CPR. This simple technique increases the possibility of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. And today, there’s a way to perform this lifesaving action without formal training.
“We think it should be a basic life skill,” such as knowing to call 911 when there’s a fire, said Clifton Callaway, M.D., PhD., professor and executive vice chair of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Consider this simple guidance: If someone is unconscious and does not appear to be breathing properly, it’s time to start CPR chest compressions, Callaway said.
Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating. Some 350,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest occur each year outside of a hospital, and the survival rate is less than 12 percent. CPR can double or triple the chances of survival.
If cardiac arrest happens in a crowded place, the likelihood of a bystander knowing CPR is greater. Seventy-percent of cardiac arrests happen in homes, but for those that occur in a workplace, a recent American Heart Association survey found that most U.S. employees are not prepared for a cardiac emergency.
For years, performing CPR meant checking the airway and doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in addition to chest compressions. Experts now advise that chest compressions alone can keep the heart pumping and maintain blood flow for a few minutes until a skilled practitioner arrives.
Hands-only CPR is part of an effort to get more people to take action without formal training. You don’t have to look for a pulse or check the airway.
The steps are: Call 911 and immediately begin chest compressions when someone is unconscious and having difficulty breathing. If you need guidance, an emergency operator can explain what to do. Using the speaker phone function on a cell phone, it may be possible to perform CPR and speak with the 911 dispatcher at the same time.
Compression-only CPR is best suited for adults and teens. You should press hard and fast in the center of the chest, pressing down at least 2 inches with the full weight of your body.
“In general, people don’t push hard enough because they’re afraid,” Callaway said. But he added: “You’re pumping blood. You’re replacing the heart beat.”
The optimum rate of compression is 100 to 120 beats per minute. It may come naturally, but if you need help gauging it, thinking of a song may help. “Stayin’ Alive,” by the Bee Gees is the right tempo.
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper or “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash are also in the 100 to 120 beats-per-minute range. Consider doing an online search for a song to have in mind before you need it in an emergency.
Different types of CPR
Learning conventional CPR is more involved because it includes compressions and mouth-to-mouth breaths. It’s taught in person or online and is often necessary for people who need CPR skills for work.
In fact, conventional CPR is more appropriate for use on children than hands-only CPR because they often suffer breathing difficulties connected to drowning or choking. That’s why those who spend time around children, such as teachers, coaches, or parents, are urged to learn it, Callaway said.
Overcoming barriers to CPR
There are three main reasons someone may be hesitant to perform CPR, said Callaway, who is also a volunteer on the American Heart Association’s Emergency Cardiovascular Care Committee:
1. Not recognizing this is the time for CPR. If a person is unconscious and breathing abnormally, even if it’s a suspected drug overdose, CPR should be initiated.
2. You’re not trained and you worry you might hurt the patient. But it’s better to help than do nothing. Don’t be afraid to apply pressure because the patient can recover from chest soreness afterward, if any, Callaway said.
3. If you’re a family member, you may be too emotionally upset. Assisting a family member in an emergency is stressful. Some people report they “freaked out,” Callaway said. But a 911 dispatcher can help you refocus and get you going.
The American Heart Association is looking to improve 911 telephone instruction and also offers online tools to help people perform CPR faster. The collaboration CARES, Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival, also works to improve response.
With automated external defibrillators (AEDs) increasingly common in public places, it’s good to check if one is available during a cardiac arrest. Since chest compressions should also begin right away, it’s best to have two responder — one to do chest compressions and the other to locate, set up, and use the AED.
Technology is contributing in other ways, too.
In some cities, volunteers who know CPR, such as doctors or off-duty medics or police officers, are signing up to be notified through a mobile app if someone is suffering cardiac arrest nearby.
However, it doesn’t take a trained professional to jump in and help. Anyone can — and should — perform CPR if necessary.
“Doing something is the right thing to do,” Callaway said. “It can only help.”
Things to Consider:
- Take action with chest compressions if someone is unconscious and not breathing properly.
- Find and remember songs with 100 to 120 beats per minute. These are good to keep in mind when administering chest compressions.
- Look for training locations in your area or sign up for online instruction to enhance your knowledge of conventional CPR.
This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.