Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is an important lifesaving technique to use in emergencies. CPR can save someone’s life and prevent brain and organ damage. You should do CPR when a person isn’t breathing or their heart isn’t beating.

CPR is a skill taught at certified first-aid training courses. You learn how to perform CPR and use an automatic external defibrillator (AED). You should retake the course about every 2 years.

Path to safety

In an emergency, there are steps to take before you begin CPR. These questions help you assess the situation.

  • Is the person conscious? If they are unconscious, touch them or talk to them to check for a response.
  • Is the environment safe? It is best to begin CPR right away, but only if you aren’t in danger.
  • How many people are present? If you are the only person, begin CPR first. Call 911 after 5 cycles of CPR. If two or more people are there, one person should call 911. This allows someone else to begin CPR.
  • Is an AED available? (This is a device that sends electrical currents to start your heart.) If so, follow instructions to deliver a shock then begin CPR.

CPR consists of three stages. The American Heart Association (AHA) uses CAB to remember the order. It stands for Compressions, Airway, and Breathing.

Compressions. Chest compressions stimulate the heart. The forceful pressing gets blood pumping again. To begin, the person should be on their back on a flat and firm surface. It is best to kneel next to the person’s torso. Place your hands, palm side down, on the center of the person’s chest. Put one hand on top of the other. Keep your elbows straight and lean directly over the person. Try to use your body weight to push down about 2 inches. Repeat this movement at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute. (Think of the tune “Stayin’ Alive.”)

If you’re not trained in CPR, you only should do chest compressions. If you’re trained, you can move on to the next two stages of CPR.

Airway and breathing. After 30 chest compressions, check for signs of normal breathing. Listen to their chest and mouth for about 5 to 10 seconds. If they still aren’t breathing, you need to open their airway. Tilt the person’s head back slightly and lift their chin. Pinch their nostrils shut. This creates a seal to allow air in one way. Give 2 large rescue breaths into their mouth. Each should last for 1 second and not be too forceful. You can breathe into the person’s nose if their mouth is impaired.

Check again for signs of normal breathing. If the person still is unconscious, start again with chest compressions. You can repeat the entire CPR cycle 5 times, or about 2 minutes. All three stages equal one cycle.

You’ll need to scale down CPR on a baby. Use 2 fingers (one from each hand) for the chest compressions. Give gentle breaths instead of deep ones.

Things to consider

Emergency situations can be scary and hard. Remember, any reaction is better than no reaction. A person who isn’t breathing or whose heart isn’t beating blacks out right away. Within 5 to 10 minutes, they can die. Even if you aren’t trained in CPR, you can help. You can give chest compressions and call 911. CPR can save someone’s life if they are in otherwise good health. For a person who already has cancer or illness, CPR may not help.

CPR does have risks. Pressing on someone’s chest can cause injuries. They may suffer a sore chest, broken ribs, or a collapsed lung. After CPR, people may need help breathing or require a stay in the hospital.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What are the scenarios in which I should give CPR?
  • Do the stages of CPR vary for adults, teens, and babies?
  • Can I give CPR to someone who has signed a DNR (do not resuscitate)? 


American Heart Association, CPR and First Aid Emergency Cardiovascular Care

National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus, CPR