CPR training class with a mannequin

The 5 Basic Steps of CPR

How to Perform Life-Saving CPR (Rescue Breathing & Chest Compressions) on Adults, Children, and Infants

CPR training class with a mannequin

Most people would be surprised to learn that nearly 45% of cardiac arrest victims survive thanks to the help of a bystander administering CPR. The truth is most cardiac arrests occur in public settings.

CPR is a critical skill and one that everyone should know. It can mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people yearly. This is especially evident when you consider that only about 46% of people who experience a cardiac emergency will get the help they need before they receive professional medical attention. By learning CPR, you could save a life.

If you’ve ever considered signing up for CPR certification or BLS training, we’ve developed this simple “how to” CPR guide to inspire those considering formal training to take that next step. If you’re already CPR certified, we hope you’ll use this article as a refresher on the basic steps necessary to perform this important, life-saving measure.

What Does CPR Stand For?

CPR stands for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. CPR is an emergency procedure that can save a person’s life if their heart stops beating from sudden cardiac arrest. Studies show that the chance of survival triples if CPR is performed right away!

What is Cardiac Arrest?

Just as it sounds, cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating, often with little or no warning. An electrical malfunction in the heart causes an irregular heartbeat or “arrhythmia.” Cardiac arrest stops the heart’s pumping action so it cannot continue to pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other vital organs. The victim loses consciousness within seconds of experiencing a cardiac arrest and exhibits no pulse. Death can occur within minutes if the victim does not receive treatment. And because sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States, with over 350,000 out-of-hospital events occurring in the US every year, it’s easy to see why the more people who can properly administer CPR out there in the world, the safer we’ll all be.

What’s the Difference Between Cardiac Arrest, Heart Attack, and Heart Failure?

Cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating. An “electrical” problem can often occur with an otherwise healthy heart.

Heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart is blocked, often by a blood clot or plaque buildup in the arteries. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem.

Heart failure means the heart is not pumping as well as it should be. It could be considered a “mechanical” or “functional” problem with the heart. Heart failure is usually the result of another disease, most commonly coronary artery disease.

How to Perform CPR

The American Heart Association (AHA) is a world leader in perfecting and teaching first aid and CPR and develops science-based guidelines for how to perform CPR properly. The recommendations below are based on the 2015 American Heart Association (AHA) Guidelines Update for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Emergency Cardiovascular Care (ECC).

How to Perform CPR—For Rescuers with CPR Training

For healthcare providers and those trained in CPR: The technique is for conventional CPR, using chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing at a ratio of 30:2 or two breaths for every 30 compressions.

For adult and teenage victims of cardiac arrest, rescuers should perform chest compressions at a relatively rapid rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute and a chest compression depth of at least 2 inches (5 cm) for an average adult while avoiding chest compression depths greater than 2.4 inches (6 cm). Be sure to allow complete recoil of the chest after each compression; do not lean on the chest after each compression.

For children (ages 1 year to puberty), compression depth should be about 2 inches (5cm). For infants (1 rescuer), the rescuer should use two fingers in the center of the chest, just below the nipple line. Chest compression depth should be about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm).

How to Perform CPR—For Rescuers Without CPR Training

Citizen performing CPR on a man

For non-healthcare providers or bystanders without formal CPR training: The recommendation for non-healthcare providers is for compression-only CPR, or hands-only CPR, without mouth-to-mouth breathing. This version of CPR is recommended for civilians without formal training who happen to witness someone experiencing a cardiac emergency.

If you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, it’s important to act fast and follow these steps for hands-only CPR:

Step 1: Check for Breathing

Check for signs of breathing—look for the chest rising and falling, or feel or hear the breath.

Step 2: Call 911

If the person is not breathing or is gasping, ask someone to call 9-1-1 while you begin CPR, or call 9-1-1 yourself and then start CPR.

Step 3: Adjust your Body to Perform Chest Compressions

Kneel next to the victim and use your fingers to locate the end of their breastbone, where the ribs come together. Place two fingers at the tip of the breastbone, then place the heel of your other hand above your fingers (on the side closest to the victim’s face). Next, put the heel of your other hand on top of the first hand so your hands are stacked (intertwining fingers is recommended).

Step 4: Perform Chest Compressions

Push hard and fast in the center of the chest until help arrives—remember, you are now pumping the blood through their body. You can use the weight of your own body to add strength to your pushes. It’s important to administer 100 to 120 compressions per minute. An excellent way to measure your pace is to remember that 100-120 compressions per minute is about the same tempo as the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

The recommended compression depth for adult and teenage victims is at least 2 inches (5 cm) while avoiding chest compression depths greater than 2.4 inches (6 cm). For children (age 1 year to puberty), recommended compression depth is about 2 inches (5cm).

Don’t remove your hands from the victim’s chest, just your weight. Avoid leaning on the victim between compressions—allow the chest to return to its normal position.

Step 5: Don’t Stop

Continue to perform compressions at this pace until help arrives.

How to Perform Hands-Only CPR for Infants

Giving hands-only CPR to infants (younger than 1-year-old) is very similar to hands-only CPR for adults and children, but there are a few critical differences:

Doctor performing infant CPR

Step 1: Check for Breathing

As with adults and children, start by checking for signs of breathing—either see the chest rising and falling or feel or hear the breath.

Step 2: Call 911

If the infant is not breathing or is gasping, you or someone else should call 9-1-1 immediately.

Step 3: Adjust the Infant’s Body on a Flat Surface

Place the infant on its back on a firm flat surface. If possible, use a surface above the ground, like a table. Move clothes out of the way.

Step 4: Perform Chest Compressions for Infants

Due to their size and fragility, the rescuer should use two fingers only on an infant instead of using both hands for compressions. The two fingers should be placed in the center of the infant’s chest, below the nipple line.

Press the infant’s chest straight down about 1 1/2 inches. Pushing hard and fast with infants is just as important as with adults. After each compression, let the chest return to its normal position. The recommended chest compression rate is at least 100 compressions per minute. Remember your Bee Gees!

Step 5: Don’t Stop

Continue to perform compressions until help arrives.

Watch a Hands-Only CPR Demonstration

Reading instructions for a life-saving procedure like CPR is not the best way to learn how to perform it correctly. Hands-on training is always the best way, but sometimes seeing the procedure demonstrated on video can be highly informative and helpful.

Watch a video demonstration of hands-only CPR from the American Heart Association.

If Someone is Not Suffering Cardiac Arrest, Could CPR Hurt Them?

This is a common question. According to the American Heart Association, adults who suddenly collapse and are not responsive are likely suffering cardiac arrest. Unless someone takes action immediately, their chance of survival is nearly zero. About 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. If an adult has collapsed for another reason, hands-only CPR could still help by causing the person to respond, such as moving or speaking. If that occurs, stop CPR. But importantly, if there’s any question, the answer should be yes. If someone collapses and you’re unsure if it’s cardiac arrest, you should still administer CPR immediately.

What is the Goal of CPR?

The goal of CPR is to return the heart to a normal heartbeat. CPR manually pumps the heart to keep blood circulating through the body, keeping the brain and other vital organs supplied with blood and oxygen until professional medical treatment can be administered.

Cardiac Arrest Facts

These facts from the American Heart Association underscore the importance of CPR training:

  • Every year, approximately 350,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest.
  • More than 360,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of the hospital each year.
  • About 90 percent of people who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die.
  • Nearly 45 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims survive when a bystander administers CPR.
  • Only 46% of people who suffer a cardiac arrest out-of-hospital receive CPR before professional help arrives.

Why is it Important to Get Certified in CPR?

The most important reason to become CPR certified is obvious: You could help save someone’s life. More than 70 percent of Americans feel helpless or intimidated to act in a cardiac emergency because they do not know how to perform CPR properly. As a result, only 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims receive CPR from a bystander. CPR training makes you a potential hero wherever you go. More importantly, 4 out of 5 cardiac arrest incidents happen at home, so the life you save could likely be that of a loved one.

Stethoscope next to a stack of textbooks

Where Can You Get Certified in CPR?

When you’ve decided to get certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), there are schools, associations, and training centers across the country offering comprehensive and affordable courses taught by experienced instructors. A simple internet search for “CPR certification near me” will almost certainly produce dozens of options in your area, including online courses. Two nationally recognized and well-respected sources for your CPR training and certification are the Red Cross and the American Heart Association.

American Red Cross: Red Cross CPR certification courses are OSHA-compliant, affordable, and available in various settings. With in-person, online, and best-in-class blended Simulation Learning, you can get CPR certified, learn life-saving skills, and train in the way that suits you best. In addition to CPR, they offer programs in first aid, AED, BLS/CPS for Healthcare, ALS/PALS, Babysitting & Childcare, Lifeguarding, and more. Find a CPR class in your area or online at the American Red Cross website.

The American Heart Association: The AHA is a leader in resuscitation science, education, and training and publishes the official Guidelines for CPR and ECC. Millions of healthcare professionals and caring individuals trust the AHA for their life-saving training, and 100% of the profits support the AHA’s mission. With locations around the country, their network of authorized AHA Training Centers and Instructors offers in-person classroom training and skills sessions. You can find contact information and course options and schedule training at the AHA website.

What Type of Jobs Require CPR Training?

Many healthcare or public service jobs require CPR training and updated certification for employment. Doctors and nurses must know CPR and other Basic Life Support (BLS) skills. Similarly, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), paramedics, firefighters, police, childcare providers, and lifeguards must know CPR and first aid.

The list of occupations that can benefit from a knowledge of CPR is much longer. It includes coaches and personal trainers, construction workers, electricians, flight attendants, prison staff, social workers, babysitters and nannies, food servers, security guards, and teachers. Because cardiac arrest can happen anytime, anywhere, CPR is a good skill for everyone.

Make a Career Out of Saving Lives

Learning CPR is a great way to start if you want to help others and make a difference in someone’s life. Then, if you’re going to take your life-saving skills to the next level, consider a career as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Paramedic.

The requirements to become an EMT are rigorous, the job is challenging, and the work environment is stressful and sometimes dangerous. Still, most medical first responders find their work to be extremely rewarding. Being an EMT requires a dedication to patient care beyond just a career —it’s a true calling. Of course, EMS service isn’t for everyone, but for those who want to make a positive difference, it can be the job of a lifetime!

Young EMTs in front of an ambulance

About Unitek EMT

Unitek EMT is one of the premier EMT training providers in Arizona. Our mission is simple: thoroughly training the next wave of EMT professionals. Unitek EMT instructors are experienced leaders in their fields, and our real-world training scenarios are ideal for both new and seasoned students, with training that covers all major aspects of emergency medical service.

6 replies
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