Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Last Updated February 2024 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Leisa Bailey, MD

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s an important lifesaving technique to use in emergencies. CPR can save someone’s life and prevent brain and organ damage. You should do CPR in an emergency situation when a person isn’t breathing or their heart isn’t beating. These settings can be scary, but a reaction is better than no reaction. Even if you’re not trained in CPR, you can help by giving chest compressions.

CPR is a skill taught at certified first-aid training courses. Along with CPR, you may learn how to use an automatic external defibrillator (AED). This is a device that sends electrical currents to start your heart. You should retake the course every 2 years.

Path to improved health

In an emergency, beginning CPR is important. Without it, a person in trouble can die in 5 to 10 minutes. Here are some questions to ask before you begin CPR:

  • Is the person conscious?If you think they are unconscious, touch them or talk to them to check for a response. A person who isn’t breathing or whose heart isn’t beating blacks out right away.
  • Is the environment safe?It’s best to begin CPR right away, but only if you aren’t in danger.
  • How many people are present?If you’re 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 right away. This allows someone else to begin CPR.
  • Is an AED available?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. The person needing CPR should be on their back on a flat and firm surface. Kneel next to the person’s body. To begin compressions on an adult, 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. Use your body weight to push down about 2 inches. Repeat this movement at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute. That’s one compression for each beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive.”

To begin compressions on a baby, place two fingers in the center of the chest. Push down about 1.5 inches. Repeat this movement at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute. Again, that’s one compression for each beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive.”

If you’re not trained in CPR, you only should do chest compressions. If you are 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 the person’s 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. For an adult, give 2 rescue breaths into the person’s mouth. For babies, give gentle breaths. For both adults and babies, each breath 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 is still unconscious, start again with chest compressions. The compressions, airway and breathing stages equal one cycle. You can repeat the entire CPR cycle 5 times, which should take about 2 minutes.

Things to consider

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

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Where can I learn to do CPR?
  • Where can I learn to use an AED?
  • 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: 11 things to know to save a life with CPR

American Heart Association: CPR and First Aid Emergency Cardiovascular Care, Find a Course

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: CPR


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