Why Everything You Know About CPR Is Wrong

If you’re trained and certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), you can count yourself among a small minority of Americans who are prepared to take action in a cardiac emergency. Although fewer than 1 in 5 Americans has undergone CPR training, more than half of Americans claim to understand the fundamentals of the practice. As it turns out, a lot of what people think they know about CPR is outdated or inaccurate, and that can have disastrous results in the event of an emergency. 

1) You Probably Don’t Need to Include Rescue Breathing 

When people hear the term “CPR,” they often think immediately of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. However, in the majority of cases, this form of rescue breathing is not necessary—especially for the untrained layperson. For most cardiac arrest sufferers, chest compressions are adequate to promote blood circulation. 

There are exceptions, of course. With proper training, rescue breathing is typically recommended for infants and for individuals who had been unconscious for an unknown amount of time. But if all you’re able to do is perform chest compressions, that’s usually adequate. 

2) CPR Should Always Be Performed Before Defibrillation 

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is designed to restore normal heart function when someone experiences cardiac arrest. Because of this, some people run straight for the defibrillator in lieu of performing CPR, working under the assumption that defibrillation is more effective and therefore more important.

There’s an important reason to complete 1 to 3 minutes of CPR before using the defibrillator. CPR delivers important nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle, which can improve the likelihood of defibrillation being successful. That’s why modern commercial defibrillators, like the Philips HeartStart OnSite AED, provide CPR coaching in addition to defibrillation instructions. 

3) CPR Should Not Be Performed on Heart Attack Sufferers 

Heart attack and cardiac arrest are often confused for one another, but they’re two very different conditions. A heart attack is caused by inadequate blood flow to the heart; cardiac arrest is the result of an electrical misfire that disrupts normal heart rhythm. 

You should always perform CPR when someone goes into cardiac arrest. In these cases, the victim will be unconscious and have no pulse or heartbeat. By contrast, you should never perform CPR on someone who has suffered a heart attack and is still conscious. Doing so can actually make the situation worse. If someone experiences a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away. 

CPR Saves Lives When Done Correctly 

If you’re not CPR-certified, consider taking a course and learning the full process and best practices. You never know when you may be needed to save a life. Even if you don’t take a formal class, consider learning the fundamentals of proper chest compressions: 

  • Always press down on the center of the chest with both hands.
  • Push down to a depth of 2 to 2.4 inches. 
  • Push down at a rate of 100 to 120 beats per minute (if it helps, try doing it to the beat of Stayin’ Alive). 
  • Make sure the chest fully recoils between each compression. 
  • Continue performing chest compressions until emergency services arrive. 

It’s simple enough that anyone can do it, but it can make all the difference in the world.