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Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Definition

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a procedure performed in an emergency when the heart stops, with the goal of prolonging circulatory and lung function.

The Importance of CPR

Although advances in emergency cardiac care continue to improve the chances of surviving cardiac arrest, cardiac arrest remains a leading cause of death in many parts of the world.

Each year, almost 350,000 Americans die from heart disease. Half of these will die suddenly, outside of the hospital, because their heart stops beating.

  • The most common cause of death from a heart attack in adults is a disturbance in the electrical rhythm of the heart called ventricular fibrillation.
  • One way of buying time until a defibrillator (AED) becomes available is to provide artificial breathing and circulation by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
    • The earlier you give CPR to a person in cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing, no heartbeat), the greater the chance of a successful resuscitation.
    • By performing CPR, the affected individual receives oxygenated blood flowing to the heart and brain until a defibrillator becomes available.
  • CPR is one link in what the American Heart Association calls the "chain of survival." The chain of survival is a series of actions that, when performed in sequence, will give a person having a heart attack the greatest chance of survival.
    • The first link in the chain of survival is immediate recognition of cardiac arrest and activation of the emergency response system by calling 911 (check your community plan, some communities require dialing a different number).
    • The next link in the chain of survival is to perform CPR until a defibrillator becomes available.
    • The next link in the chain of survival is to perform early CPR, with an emphasis on chest compressions until a defibrillator becomes available.
    • Following early CPR, the next link is to provide rapid defibrillation.
    • In many areas of the country, simple, computerized defibrillators, known as automated external defibrillators, or AEDs,
    • may be available for use by the lay public or first person on the scene.
    • Once the EMS unit arrives, the next link in the chain of survival is effective advanced life support care. This involves administering medications, using special breathing devices, and providing additional defibrillation shocks if needed.

NOTE: This reference is only intended to serve as a guideline for learning about CPR. It is not intended to be a replacement for a formal CPR course. If you are interested in taking a CPR course contact the American Heart Association at (800) AHA-USA1, or the American Red Cross by phoning your local chapter. Never practice CPR on another person, because bodily damage can occur.

Learn CPR for a loved one.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/23/2015

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The American Heart Association (AHA) has taken steps to simplify the process of helping victims of cardiac arrest by introducing "hands-only" CPR. Since only about 1/3 of people who suffer a cardiac arrest at home or at a public place actually receive help, bystanders could be afraid to initiate CPR for fear that they'll do something wrong or won't know what to do. Others may be reluctant to perform mouth-to-mouth breathing for fear of contracting an infection.

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Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation »

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) consists of chest compressions and artificial ventilation used to maintain circulatory flow and oxygenation during cardiac arrest.

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