To do hands-only CPR, put the heel of one hand on the center of the person’s chest and your other hand on top of the first.
Learning hands - only CPR could help save a loved one’s life
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation can double or triple a person’s odds of surviving cardiac arrest.
It’s terrible to imagine, but what would you do if someone in your home suddenly collapsed and stopped breathing? After calling 911, most people feel helpless after witnessing such an event, which is usually due to a cardiac arrest (see “What is cardiac arrest?”). But anyone can learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and everyone should. And because four out of every five cardiac arrests happen at home, the life you save is likely to be someone you love.
“To my mind, it’s a travesty when someone goes into cardiac arrest and a bystander does not perform CPR,” says Harvard Medical School assistant professor Dr. Aaron Baggish, associate director for the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Although most doctors don’t talk about CPR with their patients for fear of alarming them, he brings up the topic in routine wellness checks. “I ask my patients if they know CPR and have practiced it,” he says.
Hands-only chest compressions
What many people don’t realize is that the basic action of CPR is quite simple: push hard and fast on the center of the chest. This hands-only approach has been recommended since 2008. In adults with cardiac arrest, it’s just as effective and possibly better than CPR that includes blowing air into the person’s mouth, known as rescue breathing. A person who suddenly collapses has a fair amount of oxygen in his or her bloodstream. And stopping chest compressions for the breathing step may do more harm than good by temporarily stopping blood flow to the brain.
Another change from earlier instructions involves checking for a pulse, which now isn’t considered necessary. “Unless you’ve received formal training, it’s hard to check for a pulse,” says Dr. Baggish. If you know how to check, do so. But if you’re in doubt, go ahead and start chest compressions if the person is unresponsive, he says.
All 911 operators are trained to give verbal cues for CPR, so you can put your phone on speaker to hear their instructions. The operator will count out loud to help you administer compressions at the correct rate—about 100 beats per minute. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests using the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive” to guide your timing. Don’t be afraid to push firmly. “Rib fractures are a common result of good CPR,” says Dr. Baggish.
CPR is a crucial step in the chain of survival because it keeps blood circulating until the person’s heart can be shocked back into a normal rhythm with an automated external defibrillator (AED). Emergency personnel will bring and use this device. If you’re in a public place, ask a bystander to find the nearest AED. Many public areas—airports, malls, casinos, sports arenas, and office buildings—have them. AEDs use voice prompts, lights, and text messages to guide users through the needed steps.
Be prepared to respond
Don’t let lack of knowledge keep you from saving a life. An in-person class provides the best preparation. The AHA, American Red Cross, and other organizations offer classes on CPR and using a public defibrillator. Other options include smartphone apps and the one-minute video at www.heart.org/HandsOnlyCPR. One study found that people who watch a CPR instructional video are much more likely to attempt lifesaving resuscitation. You can also ask your doctor or nurse for a quick demo, says Dr. Baggish. “Anything you can do to prepare is infinitely better than doing nothing.”
What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest happens when the heart’s electrical system