A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

How and when should I perform CPR?

Hands and heart rate illustration

Even if you haven’t had training, you can perform hands-only CPR on an adult or teen.

Editor’s note: This post was updated February 2018.

It’s frightening whenever someone suddenly collapses with no warning and is unresponsive.

But if you know what to do and when to do it, you can play an important role in saving a person’s life.

Follow these five steps if someone collapses.

1. Ask someone to call 911 or any other emergency response number in your area.

If you are alone and don’t have access to a mobile phone, leave the victim to activate the emergency response system. If an AED (automatic external defibrillator) is available, bring that and apply to the victim before beginning CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation).

2. Simultaneously check for signs of breathing and a pulse, either at the neck or wrist.

Do so in no longer than 10 seconds. Note, it is not uncommon for the victim to have a wildly erratic and fast heart rhythm.

3. Assign someone to search for an AED.

AEDs are available in many public facilities.

4. Apply an AED to the victim as soon as it is available.

5. If victim shows no signs of breathing or a pulse, someone has called 911 and someone is looking for an AED, start “Hands-only” CPR without delay.

Using both hands, deliver firm compressions to the center of the chest at a rate of at least 100 compressions per minute. Do NOT try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation unless you have been trained in it. We also do not recommend CPR for young children.

CPR at 100 compressions per minute is tiring. If another person arrives on scene, you will need to trade off every few minutes. To be effective, trade-offs need to be quick, lasting no more than 10 seconds.

“When someone’s blood flow or breathing stops, seconds count,” said Dr. Michael J. Schaars, a Marshfield Clinic emergency medicine physician. “Permanent brain damage or death can happen quickly. CPR is an emergency procedure to maintain circulation and breathing until emergency medical help arrives.”

Hands-only CPR can save lives

Even if you haven’t had training, you can perform hands-only CPR on an adult or teen. Hands-only CPR uses chest compressions to keep blood circulating.

As a guide, the American Heart Association recommends pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive,” which is easy to remember and has the right beat for hands-only CPR at 100 compressions per minute.

Don’t be concerned about pushing too hard,” Schaars said. “Sometimes CPR done correctly can damage internal structures such as ribs, but it’s worth doing if it can save the person’s life.”

Keep performing hands-only CPR until an AED device is located or emergency help arrives.

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