Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a series of steps to help a person whose breathing or heart has stopped. CPR helps pump blood to the body when the heart cannot do so.
Reasons for Procedure
CPR is given when a person has stopped breathing. This may happen for many reasons, such as:
- Sudden cardiac arrest
- Drowning or choking
- Electrical shocks and lightning strikes
- Severe infection or severe allergic reaction
- Drug overdose
The outcome varies. It depends on the cause and how soon CPR was started. After the heart has stopped, a normal heartbeat may not come back.
The person is likely to die if CPR is not started right away. Problems from CPR may include fracture of the ribs , broken teeth, infections, and puncture of the lung.
What to Do
Prior to Procedure
Check for safety at the scene. Tap the person and ask: “Are you OK?” If the person does not respond, follow these steps.
- If someone is with you, have them call for medical help right away. Ask for an automatic external defibrillator (AED). An AED is a device that shocks the person's heart.
- If you are alone, call for medical help right away.
If the person is not breathing or only gasping, begin CPR:
- Place the heel of 1 hand palm down on the chest. Put the other hand on top of the first hand.
- Straighten your arms and lock your elbows. Begin pushing down in a straight motion. The pushes should be 2 inches deep.
- Push hard and fast.
- Allow the chest to rise completely between pushes.
- Avoid interruption between pushes.
If you are trained in CPR, give 2 rescue breaths after 30 pushes. To give rescue breaths:
- Place 1 hand on the forehead. Lift the chin with your other hand.
- Gently tilt the head backward. Pinch the person's nose and cover their mouth with yours.
- Breathe twice into his mouth. Do this until you see the chest rise. Breaths should be about 1 second each.
- After giving 2 rescue breaths, do 30 pushes. Continue the cycle of 2 breaths and 30 pushes.
- If you are not trained in CPR, continue doing the chest pushes. Do not give rescue breaths.
Give CPR until the AED is brought to the scene or until:
- Medical help arrives
- The person is conscious and able to breathe
To use the AED:
- Turn the AED on.
- Attach the pads.
- Follow the prompts. If advised, give the shock. If the shock is not advised, the AED will tell you to keep doing CPR.
How Long Will It Take?
The length of time for CPR varies. It depends on the cause and how fast medical help arrives.
Will It Hurt the Victim?
The person is unconscious when CPR is given. CPR does not hurt. Some people may have soreness in the chest after CPR.
The emergency team will help the person when they arrive.
After CPR, the person will need be checked at the hospital.
Call for Help
If the person is not breathing or responding:
- If someone is with you—have them call for medical help right away.
- If you are alone—do CPR for 2 minutes before calling for medical help.
American Heart Association http://www.heart.org
American Red Cross http://www.redcross.org
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca
Adult basic life support. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/adult-basic-life-support-bls. Accessed September 28, 2021.
CPR steps. American Red Cross website. Available at: https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr/performing-cpr/cpr-steps. Accessed September 28, 2021.
Merchant R, Topjian A, et al. Part 1: executive summary: 2020 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation. 2020;142:S337–S357.
Part 3: Adult basic and advanced life support. 2020 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://cpr.heart.org/en/resuscitation-science/cpr-and-ecc-guidelines/adult-basic-and-advanced-life-support. Accessed September 28, 2021.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
- Review Date: 07/2021
- Update Date: 09/28/2021