Early CPR is an important link in the chain of survival for a victim of sudden cardiac or respiratory arrest. CPR involves a combination of mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing (or other artificial ventilation techniques) and chest compressions. It keeps some oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs until appropriate medical treatment can restore normal heart action.
Cardiac arrest causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds. If there is early access to the EMS system (Phone First! Phone Fast!), early CPR, early defibrillation, and early advanced care, the person has a chance to survive.
CPR techniques include three basic rescue skills, the ABCs of CPR: Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.
Airway – A key action for successful resuscitation is immediate opening of the airway by positioning the head properly. It is important to remember that the back of the tongue and the epiglottis are the most common causes of airway obstruction in the unconscious victim. Since the tongue, directly, and the epiglottis, indirectly, are attached to the lower jaw, tilting the head back and moving the lower jaw (chin) forward lifts the tongue and the epiglottis from the back of the throat and usually opens the airway.
Breathing – When breathing stops, the body has only the oxygen remaining in the lungs and bloodstream. Therefore, when breathing stops, cardiac arrest and death quickly follow. Mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing is the quickest way to get oxygen into the victim’s lungs. There is more than enough oxygen in the air you breathe into the victim to supply the victim’s needs.
Rescue breathing should be performed until the victim can breathe on his or her own or until trained professionals take over.
- If the victim is unconscious and breathing and there is no evidence of trauma, you should place the victim on his or her side in the recovery position.
- If the victim’s heart is beating, you should:
- Maintain an open airway.
- Breathe for the victim.
- Maintain an open airway.
If the victim’s heart is not beating, you should perform rescue breathing plus chest compressions.
Circulation – Chest compressions can maintain some blood flow to the lungs, brain, coronary arteries, and other major organs. When chest compressions are performed, rescue breathing should also be performed.
Recovery position – If the victim resumes breathing and regains a pulse during or following resuscitation, you should place the victim in the recovery position.
Reproduced with permission.
© Basic Life Support Heartsaver Guide, 1993,
© “Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR),” 1986, 1993
Copyright American Heart Association.
To perform CPR correctly, you need some expert training. It takes just 3 hours to learn, and anyone strong enough to compress the sternum (breastbone) 1/2 inch is capable of performing CPR. Call your local chapter of the American Heart Association, Red Cross or local hospital to find out where you can learn CPR.