Basic Life Support and Emergency CPR

Last updated: April 26, 2023

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, which is commonly known by its acronym CPR, is a form of basic life support that is applied during a life-threatening emergency. Situations that call for CPR include cardiac arrest, near-drowning incidents, suffocation, or any in which a person is not breathing.

The goal of performing emergency CPR is to ensure the circulation of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. This action can help prevent brain damage or death from occurring. It is essential that both adults and children learn the basics of performing CPR.

Why it is Important to learn CPR

There are many reasons why learning CPR is important. According to the American Heart Association, 383,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur yearly in situations that are outside of a hospital setting. A majority of those take place in a home; however, 70 percent of people in the U.S. don’t know CPR or have forgotten how to do it. All parents of infants and small children should also learn how to do CPR so that they can take the appropriate action if their child or infant stops breathing. Acting swiftly often means the difference between life and death in any of these situations.

Learning how to do CPR

The best way to learn how to do CPR is to take a course. Local hospitals and colleges may offer CPR classes to the public.

During these classes, people learn the guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to adequately provide it for adults as well as children and infants. Qualified instructors teach these courses and use mannequins to demonstrate the correct steps to take.

Even if a person is unable to take a CPR course, he or she should learn hands-only CPR; this is a simple process that is illustrated online on the American Heart Association’s website. Hands-only CPR is a type of emergency CPR that is simple to learn and can save the life of a loved one or any person in need.

Important guidelines

There are a few guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation that people should follow before attempting to administer help. The first instruction is to determine if the person is conscious. To do this, use a loud voice and ask if the person is okay while tapping them. It is okay to gently shake a person only if there is no risk that the individual has a back or neck injury.

Another essential rule to follow before attempting to perform emergency CPR or any other type of basic life support is to contact emergency services so that professional help arrives as quickly as possible. If an infant or a child who has not yet reached puberty needs CPR, the parent or guardian should contact emergency services after first performing CPR for two minutes.

If there is more than one person present, then one of them should call 911 while the other begins to perform CPR. There are also guidelines on what type of CPR to perform. People who are not trained to perform CPR, or who are trained but not confident in their ability, should provide hands-only CPR. If trained, a person should provide CPR followed by checking a person’s airways and giving rescue breaths.

To perform hands-only CPR on an adult or a teenager who suddenly collapsed, a person should place his or her hands together so that one is on top of the other. The heel of the bottom hand should then be placed on the center of the unconscious person’s chest. The person must then straighten his or her arms, lock the elbows, and press down on the unconscious person’s chest repeatedly.

What to take into account when performing CPR

When performing CPR on a child who has not reached puberty, only the heel of one hand is necessary, and for an infant two fingers are used in place of a hand. The pressing motion should be relatively hard and at a fast pace that keeps the beat to the disco classic song “Stayin’ Alive” from the movie Saturday Night Fever. The American Heart Association recommends the beat from this song because it accurately matches the rate that a person should push on the chest, which is 100–120 beats per minute. Continue this until help arrives.

When performing full CPR, a simple way to remember the three steps is to memorize the acronym CAB. CAB stands for compressions, airway, and breaths; this is the correct order to follow when providing CPR. Compressions are performed in the same manner as hands-only CPR.

Unlike the hands-only method which continues with compressions until help arrives, 30 compressions should be performed before checking the airway. To open the airway, tilt the head back and lift the chin up. If the person is not breathing normally or not breathing at all then emergency breaths are needed.

Emergency breaths involve pinching the nose and breathing into the mouth of the unconscious individual to force air into the lungs; this is done twice, with each breath lasting one full second. Thirty chest compressions follow the breaths. The cycle is repeated until emergency responders arrive or until the individual begins breathing on his or her own. When giving rescue breaths to an infant, a person should use their mouth to cover both the baby’s mouth and nose before delivering gentle puffs of air.

A person can never be sure when or if they will be in a situation where cardiopulmonary resuscitation is required. While everyone should know how to deliver CPR in an emergency situation, it is essential that mothers, fathers, or guardians of small children know how to react if a child is not breathing. Responding quickly and providing the necessary basic life support may save a life. Taking a class can help give the individuals practical facts on CPR as well as the important steps on how to perform it safely and accurately on children, infants, and adults.

The following links provide further information about CPR.

This page was written by on Jan 19, 2016.
This page was last reviewed and updated by on Jun 14, 2021.