CPR on a mannequin

The 5 Basic Steps of CPR

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

CPR on a mannequin

Did you know that nearly 45% of cardiac arrest victims survive with the help of bystander CPR? In fact, most cardiac arrests that occur outside of a hospital, will occur either in a public setting or inside the home.

CPR is a critical life skill, and it can mean the difference between life and death. This is especially true when you consider that only about 46% of people who do experience a cardiac emergency will get the help they need before they receive medical attention. By learning CPR, your actions can one day save a life.

If you’ve ever considered signing up for CPR certification or BLS training, we strongly encourage it. We developed this “how to” CPR guide to inspire those of you who are considering formal training to take that next step. If you’re already CPR certified, then we hope this article will offer you a refresher on some of the most basic steps when performing 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. If performed immediately after cardiac arrest, CPR can triple the chances of survival!

What Is Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating, often without warning. It is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. Cardiac arrest disrupts the heart’s pumping action so that it cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs. Within seconds of experiencing a cardiac arrest, the victim loses consciousness and has no pulse. Death occurs within minutes if the victim does not receive treatment. Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States. Over 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the US every year.

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

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

Heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart is blocked, often by a blood clot or buildup of plaque 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 itself. 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 first aid and CPR and develops science-based guidelines for performing CPR. 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 recommendation is for conventional CPR using chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing at a ratio 30:2 or 2 breaths for every 30 compressions.

For adult and teenage victims of cardiac arrest, it is recommended that rescuers perform chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute and to a depth of at least 2 inches (5 cm) for an average adult, while avoiding chest compression depths greater than 2.4 inches (6 cm). Allow full recoil of chest after each compression; do not lean on the chest after each compression.

For children (ages 1 year to puberty), compression depth is about 2 inches (5cm). For infants (1 rescuer), the rescuer should use 2 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

Public AED next to a payphone


For non-healthcare providers or bystanders without formal CPR training: The recommendation is for compression-only CPR, or hands-only CPR, without mouth-to-mouth breathing. This version of CPR is recommended for people without formal training who see an adult or teen suddenly collapse outside of a hospital or medical facility, for example at home, at work, in a park, or place of business.

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—either 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 or call 9-1-1 yourself.

Step 3: Adjust your Body to Perform Chest Compressions

Kneel next to victim. Use your fingers to locate the end of the victim’s breastbone, where the ribs come together. Place two fingers at the tip of the breastbone. Place the heel of your other hand above your fingers (on the side closest to the victim’s face). Then 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. You can use the weight of your body to add strength to your pushes. It’s important to push, giving 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Which is about the same tempo as the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

For adult and teenage victims, the recommended compression depth 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: Wait for Help

Continue to perform compressions 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 differences:

Step 1: Check for Breathing

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

Step 2: Call 911

If the infant is not breathing or is gasping, ask someone to call 9-1-1 or call 9-1-1 yourself.

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

Make sure the infant is lying on their 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

Instead of using both hands for compressions, the rescuer should use 2 fingers only on an infant. The 2 fingers should be placed in the center of the infant’s chest, just 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 it is with adults. After each compression, let the chest come back up to its normal position. The recommended chest compression rate is at least 100 compressions per minute.

Step 5: Wait for Help

Continue to perform compressions until help arrives.

Watch a Hands-Only CPR Demonstration

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

Click here to see a video demonstration of hands-only CPR from the American Heart Association.

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

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. In fact, about 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. If an adult has collapsed for a reason other than cardiac arrest, hands-only CPR could still help by causing the person to respond (begin to move, breathe normally or speak). If that occurs, CPR can be stopped.

What Is the Goal of CPR?

The goal of CPR is NOT to bring somebody back to life. The purpose of the compressions is not to return to the heart to a normal heartbeat. Returning the heart to a normal rhythm with CPR is unlikely.

The goal of CPR is to manually pump the heart to keep blood circulating around the body, to keep the brain and other vital organs supplied with blood, and therefore oxygen, until medical treatment can be administered to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Cardiac Arrest Facts

First aid logo

The following information was taken from the American Heart Association:

  • Every year, 475,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest.
  • More than 350,000 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 bystander CPR was administered.
  • Only 46% of people who suffer a cardiac arrest out-of-hospital receive CPR before professional help arrives.

Why 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 to act in a cardiac emergency because they do not know how to perform CPR, and only 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims receive CPR from a bystander. CPR training makes you a potential hero wherever you go, but it makes you especially valuable at your place of work where an automated external defibrillator (AED) may be available, and you would be trained in its use. More importantly, 4 out 5 cardiac arrest incidents happen at home, so the life you save could likely be a loved one.

Where Can You Get Certified in CPR?

When you’re ready to get certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) there is no shortage of schools, associations, and training centers offering comprehensive and affordable courses taught by experienced instructors. A simple internet search for “CPR certification near me” will 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: Designed, and taught by experts, Red Cross CPR certification courses are OSHA compliant, affordable, and available in a range of 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. You can find a CPR class in your area or online at their 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 lifesaving training, and 100% of the profits support the AHA’s lifesaving mission. With locations around the country, their network of authorized AHA Training Centers and Instructors offer in-person classroom training and skills sessions. You can find contact information, see course options and schedule training at their website.

What Type of Jobs Require CPR Training?

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

The occupations that can benefit from CPR is much, much longer. They include, coaches and personal trainers, construction workers, electricians, flight attendants, prison staff, social workers, babysitters and nannies, food servers, security guards, and teachers.

Make A Career Out of Saving Lives

EMS team assisting a man

If you want to help others and potentially make a real difference in someone’s life, learning CPR is a great way to start. If you want 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, but most medical first responders find the work extremely rewarding. Being a EMT requires a dedication to patient care that goes beyond just a career – it’s a calling. EMS service isn’t for everyone, but for those who want to make a positive difference, it’s the job of a lifetime!

About Unitek EMT

Unitek EMT is one of the premier EMT training providers in Arizona. Our mission is simple: training the next wave of EMT professionals. We offer a variety of training options to fit your needs. Unitek EMT instructors are experienced leaders in their fields, and our ultra-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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