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CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is a lifesaving physical intervention technique. It’s used in emergencies to help keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs until advanced life support is available. CPR is appropriate if someone is not responding and is not breathing normally (cardiac arrest).

What Is CPR?

CPR involves using the hands to press on someone’s chest to create artificial circulation with rhythmic manual compressions. It also includes exhaling into the person’s mouth to ventilate the lungs (rescue breathing). However, the American Heart Association has stated that hands-only CPR works as well as—and sometimes better than—traditional CPR with rescue breathing for adults who suddenly collapse. 

CPR does not usually restart the heart. Rather, it maintains a flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and heart to keep vital organs alive and to prevent death. This increases the likelihood that the heart will be responsive to medications or defibrillation. 

Before giving CPR, check the victim to see if he or she is unresponsive. Then call 911 or ask someone else to do so. While you are calling 911, observe the victim to see if he or she is breathing normally. If the victim is not responding and not breathing normally (too slow or not at all), immediately begin chest compressions. Place the victim on his or her back on a hard surface, and begin pushing hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest.

Don’t worry about whether or not you are doing hands-only CPR “right” or not. You cannot make the victim worse. You can only help. Giving hands-only CPR for a short time to someone who is not really in cardiac arrest is rarely harmful. Usually victims who were not really in cardiac arrest will wake up after a few seconds and tell you to stop pushing on them. If the victim really is in cardiac arrest and no one helps by quickly beginning hands-only CPR, the chances of survival are cut in half.

If the victim has drowned or quit breathing due to choking or lack of oxygen, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is also needed. If needed, the 911 dispatcher can help provide instructions over the telephone in how to give rescue breathing.

Why Learn CPR?

The best way to learn hands-only CPR and conventional CPR with rescue breathing is to practice in a class or at home. Practice will give you added confidence if an emergency actually happens. You may want to make sure other members of your family also learn CPR. After all, who is going to rescue you? 

The American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and other groups sponsor regular classes to teach CPR to community groups, worksites, and schools. You can see a video and learn more about how to do CPR by visiting the Hands-Only™ CPR website.