Your breathing and heartbeat can stop for a number of reasons, from heart attack to blood infections to accidents. However, death does not have to be the outcome. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, known as CPR, was developed to help increase your chances of survival.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is a procedure in which you basically try to restart someone’s breathing or heart by manually compressing the person’s chest and pushing air into the lungs by breathing into the person’s mouth.
The breathing portion of the procedure is known as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, rescue breathing or ventilation. The American Heart Association or AHA, Red Cross, local governments, schools and community centers all offer CPR training.
Standard CPR includes both mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compression. The University of Washington School of Medicine says mouth-to-mouth provides oxygen to the lungs of the victim. Even though you are exhaling, your breath will still be about 16 percent oxygen.
Compression acts to keep blood circulating throughout the body. If a person’s heart has stopped, there’s nothing to pump the blood and keep it moving unless someone performs compression CPR.
Dr. Gordon A. Ewy, writing in a 2007 paper published in the journal "Circulation," warns that blood flow in someone whose heart has stopped is weak enough that “any interruption in chest compressions, even for breathing, lowers the chances of survival.”
The AHA reports that the first official support for a resuscitation procedure occurred in France in 1740, when the Paris Academy of Sciences advocated using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to revive drowning victims.
Chest compression was first documented in 1891, although the first successful recorded chest compression didn’t happen until 1903. Modern CPR came about in 1960. In 2008, the AHA released additional guidelines that said compression-only CPR could be just as effective in an adult whose heart has stopped as combined breathing and compression.
"The Los Angeles Times" reported in 2008 that despite the new guidelines for adults, standard CPR is more effective when used on children.
The AHA notes that no central organization keeps track of CPR successes and failures, so there are no official nationwide statistics illustrating how helpful CPR might be. The AHA does say that CPR done within five minutes of a person’s collapse combined with professional care can increase survival rates by as much as 50 percent. It can also “buy time” while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
Compression CPR carries with it the risk of fracturing bones in the person’s chest, but as the University of Washington School of Medicine says, “It's better to have a cracked rib than be dead.”
If someone collapses and is in need of CPR, it is up to bystanders in the area to help that person out until paramedics arrive. One problem with this, aside from bystanders not knowing what to do, is bystander reluctance. They may know what to do, but are not willing to do it, usually because of the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. They may fear catching a disease or are just uncomfortable with the idea.
A 2007 paper in "Prehospital and Disaster Medicine" confirmed this when it investigated the effect of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, on the number of people willing to perform CPR in Hong Kong. Researchers found that the percentage of people who would perform standard CPR, including rescue breathing on a stranger dropped precipitously, from 61.3 percent pre-SARS to 28.9 percent post-SARS.
Compression CPR saw a much smaller drop, from 83.6 percent to 77.4 percent. The University of Kentucky speculates the approval of compression-only CPR will translate into more bystanders performing CPR.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: CPR Adult Overview
- American Heart Association: Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Statistics
- Circulation: New Concepts of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation for the Lay Public
- University of Kentucky Health Care: CPR Made Simpler
- Prehospital and Disaster Medicine: Effect of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome