What is CPR? And How Does It Work?

What is CPR and How Does it Work?

Recently on one of our Safe and Sound  first aid courses the instructor asked those attending what CPR stood for. And while everybody knew what it was not many of them knew what the letters meant and how it helped to keep a person alive.

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. For the general public and for first aiders, CPR refers to the basic first aid procedures that can be used to keep someone alive until the emergency medical services can get to the scene. By doing CPR you are acting as a manual pump. The chest compressions pump the blood around the body and the rescue breaths are putting oxygen in. You might have heard of the expression ‘the kiss of life’ which is another name for rescue breaths.

If you are the first person on the scene and somebody has stopped breathing by performing CPR, you will allow sufficient blood containing oxygen to reach the brain, heart and other organs which will keep the person alive for several minutes. CPR on its own will not restart the heart, but what it does is to ‘buy time’ for the medical services to reach the scene. Providing effective CPR more than doubles the chance of someone surviving a cardiac arrest.

Rescue breaths give the best chance of survival however if you prefer not to give rescue breaths Hands-only CPR is still likely to increase a person’s chance of survival and it’s definitely better than doing nothing. You have probably all seen the excellent British Heart Foundation Vinnie Jones video:


Often when adults suffer a cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops and prior to this breathing will probably have been normal (or nearly normal) so the blood should be well oxygenated. Doing compression-only CPR for the first few minutes after the heart stops will be effective and it will provide time for the emergency services to get there with an AED. Any longer than a few minutes then the oxygen is likely to be used up and the rescue breaths will be required to give a better chance of survival.


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