A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

How and when should I perform CPR?

Hands and heart rate illustrationIt’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.

If someone collapses, you and others around you need to follow these five steps:

  • Have someone call 911 or any other emergency response number in your area.
  • Have someone else search for an automatic external defibrillator (AED), available in many public facilities.
  • Immediately check for signs of a pulse, either at the neck or wrist, and determine if the person is breathing. The victim may also have a wildly erratic and fast heart rhythm.
  • If you can’t detect a pulse or breathing, start “Hands-only” CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) without delay. Using both hands, deliver firm blows to the center of the chest. (Note: Do NOT try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation unless you have been trained in it. We also do not recommend CPR for young children.)
  • If CPR is unsuccessful, apply an AED to attempt to “shock” the heart back to life or to a normal rhythm.

When someone’s blood flow or breathing stops, seconds count,” said Dr. John Hayes, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist and electrophysiologist. “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.

“Don’t be concerned about pushing too hard,” Hayes 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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