CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a life-saving technique that can help someone who has stopped breathing or whose heart has stopped beating. CPR can keep oxygen flowing to the brain and other vital organs until medical help arrives.
According to the American Heart Association, about 475,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest each year. That’s more than all forms of cancer combined. Only about 10% of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive. However, if bystanders perform CPR, the survival rate can double or triple.
CPR involves two main steps: chest compressions and rescue breaths. Chest compressions are forceful pushes on the center of the chest that help pump blood around the body. Rescue breaths are mouth-to-mouth breathing that provide oxygen to the lungs.
To perform CPR, you need to follow these steps:
1. Check for responsiveness and call for help. If you find someone who is unconscious or not breathing normally, tap their shoulder and shout “Are you OK?” If they do not respond, call 911 or your local emergency number and ask for an ambulance. If you are alone, do this before starting CPR. If someone else is with you, ask them to call for help while you start CPR.
2. Place the person on their back and tilt their head back slightly. This will open their airway and make it easier to breathe. If you suspect a spinal injury, do not move their head or neck unless they are not breathing.
3. Start chest compressions. Place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest, between the nipples. Place your other hand on top of the first hand and interlock your fingers. Keep your arms straight and your shoulders directly over your hands. Push hard and fast, about 2 inches (5 cm) deep and at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Count out loud or use a metronome app to keep the rhythm. Allow the chest to recoil fully between each compression.
4. Give rescue breaths. After 30 compressions, open the person’s mouth and pinch their nose shut. Take a normal breath and seal your lips around their mouth. Blow into their mouth until you see their chest rise. Remove your mouth and let their chest fall. Repeat this once more to give two rescue breaths. If you are not trained or comfortable with giving rescue breaths, you can continue with chest compressions only.
5. Continue CPR until help arrives or the person shows signs of life. Signs of life include coughing, breathing, moving or making sounds. If you have an automated external defibrillator (AED) available, use it as soon as possible. An AED is a device that can deliver an electric shock to restart the heart. Follow the instructions on the AED and resume CPR until the AED tells you to stop or help arrives.
CPR can also help someone who has choked on something, drowned, overdosed on drugs, or suffered a severe allergic reaction. In these cases, CPR can prevent brain damage or death by keeping blood and oxygen circulating until emergency services arrive.
You can learn more about CPR by taking a course from a reputable organization such as the American Heart Association or the Red Cross. You never know when you might need to use it to save a life, you can be someone’s hero by knowing CPR.