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CPR for Adults
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency procedure that provides breathing and blood circulation for someone experiencing cardiac ar...

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What Is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency procedure that provides oxygen and blood circulation for someone experiencing cardiac arrest. There are different CPR procedures for adults and children. This article describes CPR for adults.

Cardiac arrest occurs when your breathing and heartbeat stop. Cardiac arrest is deadly if it’s not treated immediately. Symptoms of someone who has experienced a cardiac arrest include:

  • gasping for air
  • no breathing
  • no pulse
  • unconsciousness

A heart attack can cause cardiac arrest. However, cardiac arrest and a heart attack aren’t the same. You don’t necessarily need to perform CPR on a person having a heart attack.

Common causes of cardiac arrest include:

  • accidental drowning
  • bloodstream infections
  • drug overdose
  • excessive bleeding
  • injuries

Always call 911 when someone displays these symptoms. CPR can help prevent loss of life while you are waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

How Is CPR Performed?

The goal of CPR is to resuscitate a person whose breathing or pulse is absent. The technique involves rescue breathing and chest compressions. CPR for adults can be done in two different ways: the “full” version, which focuses on circulation, airway, and breathing (CAB), and the “hands only” version, recommended for people who haven’t been trained.

If you haven’t received formal training in CPR, the American Heart Association recommends performing hands-only CPR. This helps increase blood circulation to prevent death. First, call 911. After calling 911, push hard on the center of the person’s chest. Repeat this in a fast motion. Many people are afraid to perform hands-only CPR, but the fact is that it’s worse to take no action.

Full CPR has two more steps. These are the cornerstones of CPR:

  • To regain blood circulation, place the heel of your hand over the center of the person’s chest and push. You should compress the chest by 2 inches and push 100 times per minute. Many CPR instructors advise people to compress the chest in rhythm with the Bee Gees’ song “Stayin’ Alive.” This song has the right rhythm to simulate a heartbeat.
  • Next, you need to clear the airway. After pushing the chest at least 30 times, tilt the individual’s head and lift the chin in a forward position. Perform mouth-to-mouth breathing if you suspect a lack of breathing.
  • Rescue breathing is necessary for people who show signs of not being able to take in oxygen through the lungs. Remember that gasping for air is not normal breathing. If the person is gasping for air, you should initiate CPR. If the person’s mouth has an injury and you can’t open it, you can perform rescue breathing into their nose. Give two quick breaths and watch for the chest to rise. According to the University of Washington, each breath should take about one second. If the chest doesn’t rise, repeat the CAB cycle.

If the person responds, either by speaking, beginning to move, or breathing normally, you can stop performing CPR.

It is also important to know that techniques vary between CPR procedures for adults, children, and infants. Never perform adult CPR on children.

What Happens After CPR Is Performed?

What happens to a person after they receive CPR greatly depends on how long the person has been in cardiac arrest, as well as the severity of their condition. CPR may help start a person’s pulse and start them breathing again. Continuously check for breathing until emergency medical help arrives.

Waiting for an ambulance without performing CPR can have serious health consequences. A lack of blood and oxygen flow can cause permanent brain damage. Death can occur in worst case scenarios. This is why it is so important to initiate CPR as soon as possible. Call 911 before performing CPR, or have someone else place the call.

Cardiac arrest can occur anywhere, at any time, and CPR is a valuable tool to help others in life-threatening situations. Learning CPR can save someone’s life. If a loved one has heart or coronary artery disease, it is even more important to learn the procedure.

Learning from a professional instructor is the most effective way to learn the details. Visit for a list of free CPR classes in your area. Retake a CPR class every two years to make sure your skills are intact.

Written by: Kristeen Moore
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: [Ljava.lang.Object;@1a38f381
Published: Jul 18, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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