CPR is a lifesaving procedure that is performed when someone's breathing or heartbeat has stopped, as in cases of electric shock, drowning, or heart attack. CPR is a combination of:
Permanent brain damage or death can occur within minutes if a person's blood flow stops. Therefore, you must continue these procedures until the person's heartbeat and breathing return, or trained medical help arrives.
CPR can be lifesaving, but it is best performed by those who have been trained in an accredited CPR course. The procedures described here are not a substitute for CPR training. The newest techniques emphasize compression over rescue breathing and airway, reversing long-standing practice. See www.americanheart.org for classes near you.
Time is very important when an unconscious person is not breathing. Permanent brain damage begins after only 4 minutes without oxygen, and death can occur as soon as 4 - 6 minutes later.
When someone starts CPR before emergency support arrives, the patient has a much greater chance of surviving. Yet, when most emergency workers arrive at a cardiac arrest, they usually find no one giving CPR.
Machines called automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can be found in many public places, and are available for home use. These machines have pads or paddles to place on the chest during a life-threatening emergency. They automatically check the heart rhythm and give a sudden shock if, and only if, that shock is needed to get the heart back into the right rhythm. When using an AED, follow the instructions exactly.
In adults, major reasons that heartbeat and breathing stop include:
The following steps are based on instructions from the American Heart Association.
If the person starts breathing again, place them in the recovery position. Periodically recheck for breathing until help arrives.
To avoid injuries and heart problems that can lead to cardiac arrest:
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation - adult; Rescue breathing and chest compressions - adult; Resuscitation - cardiopulmonary - adult
Hazinski MF, Nolan JP, Billi JE, et al. Part 1: Executive summary: 2010 International Consensus on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care Science with Treatment Recommendations. Circulation. 2010;122:S250-S275.
McGlinch BP, White RD. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation: basic and advanced life support. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 97.
Hazinski MF, Samson R, Schexnayder S. 2010 Handbook of Emergency Cardiovascular Care for Healthcare Providers. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association; 2010.
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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