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7 CPR Steps That Save Lives

7 CPR Steps That Save Lives

Photo of Greta

by Greta Kviklyte

Life Saver, AMC
Co-authored by Kim Murray, RN, M.S.

posted on May 14, 2019, at 1:48 am


Cardiac arrest claims the lives of more people annually than lung cancer, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined, reports the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association. Among those that suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA), survival rates are minimal, 12 percent, asserts CPR.Heart.Org, and unfortunately, only 46.1 of those that suffer arrest receive bystander CPR.

Part of this statistic is the result of misinformation surrounding cardiac arrest, whether its on an infant, child or adult. The reality is simple; knowing the proper CPR steps can help save lives, regardless of what type of emergency occurs. In fact, the leading steps are seven simple life-saving actions that make all the difference in the world for someone’s life.

Before You Begin CPR, Remember to Check the Scene for Safety

CPR checking for breathPrior to providing help to those suffering respiratory or cardiac arrest, consider your own safety. The best intentions in the world will lead to loss of life if the scene presents a risk to your life. After all, you cannot save lives if you are now in need of care as well.

Checking the scene for safety depends on the location of the incident. For example, before helping someone involved in a traffic accident, make sure traffic has stopped. Someone in distress near a downed power line could still be in contact with the current, so it may be necessary to use a non-conductive object, such as wooden board, to move the line away from the person.

Potential drowning victims should be removed from the water and placed on a stable surface. In fact, more than 3,000 people lost their lives due to unintentional drownings in the U.S. between 2005 and 2014, reports If the person appears to have suffered drowning, begin CPR steps as you would in any other case. Of course, remain vigilant over your surroundings to ensure your safety as you provide assistance.

If the scene is safe, begin by following these steps:

1. Learn to Recognize Emergencies

man holding his chestThe biggest issue with performing bystander CPR is the misconception that people will always ask for help. By definition, sudden cardiac arrest may occur without warning. Learning to recognize emergencies is crucial to survival.

Anyone that collapses suddenly, expresses pain or tightness in their chest or suffers a trauma may need CPR.

Clenching one’s throat is the universal sign for choking. Even though the person may not be in cardiac arrest, time is of the essence. Without oxygen, brain damage will ensue, and the risk of mortality increases.

If none of the above occur, you may still be amid an emergency. Begin CPR steps with assessing the person and moving to the next step.

2. Activate Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

If possible, call 9-1-1 immediately. This is much easier today with the advent of cellphones, but some areas may not have adequate cellular access to call 9-1-1 from the location of the incident. In this case, tell someone else to call for help. If you are alone when a person collapses or enters medical distress, yell as loud as possible to get another person’s attention.

3. Assess Breathing

The next of the CPR steps focus on the actual work of CPR, including assessing breathing. A person that is not breathing may be a choking victim, someone that has experienced cardiac arrest or a person with a severe allergic reaction. Place the side of your face against the person’s nose and mouth. Taking less than five seconds, look, listen and feel for the person’s breath.

  • Listen for the sound of air moving
  • Look for the rise of the chest
  • Feel for the sensation of air blowing against your check

If the emergency began with a conscious choking victim, you may skip this step, replacing it with looking into the person’s mouth to see if the object has become dislodged.

4. Provide 30 Immediate Compression or Begin Abdominal Thrusts

Chest compressions should be performed at a rate of 100 per minute. This is the same rhythm as found in the popular Bee Gees song, “Stayin’ Alive.” If you lack formal CPR training, sing this song, and with each beat, push down hard into the victim’s chest until you have performed 30 compressions.

Prior years’ CPR recommendations advised responders to check for breathing prior to beginning compressions. However, this created a window of opportunity for brain damage and cellular death. As a result, the new recommendation is to begin chest compressions on anyone that suddenly loses consciousness or appears not to have a pulse.

Responders may check for a pulse, but any assessment of a pulse should be completed in less than five seconds. The fastest way to check for a pulse with the index and middle finger pressed against the groove on the side of the neck. This is the carotid pulse, and it is located just to the side of the space where a man’s Adam’s apple would rest. Even if you feel a weak pulse, it is best to begin CPR chest compressions.

For choking emergencies, the process is slightly different. If the person is conscious, begin abdominal thrusts. Reach around the person. Form a fist with one hand; grasp the fist with the other. Pull upward and hard into the person’s abdomen. Continue until the food is dislodged. If the person loses consciousness, proceed with the CPR steps.

5. Open the Unconscious Victim’s Airway

Someone that loses consciousness is within moments of death. As explained by MedlinePlus, the brain cannot survive for more than four minutes without oxygen. Unconsciousness may result from trauma, chronic health problems or even sudden stress. Each event carries a risk of cardiac arrest. After the initial round of compressions, it is time to open the victim’s airway.
Opening the airway is simple with the head-tilt, jaw-thrust maneuver. Grasp the person’s chin; pull out and upward slightly. Some CPR recommendations advise to only perform this step if rescue breaths do not go in. However, it takes only a second to perform and saves time for someone facing death’s door.

This is true regardless of the type of emergency or cause of arrest. Place the side of your face within one inch of the person’s mouth and nose. Look, listen and feel for the person’s breath. If the emergency began with a conscious choking victim, you may skip this step, replacing it with looking into the person’s mouth to see if the object has become dislodged.

6. Give Two Rescue Breaths

Attempt to provide two rescue breaths. Each rescue breath should last one second. In addition, rescue breaths can be delivered mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose, so someone with a severe injury to either can be saved. For mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths, remember to pinch the nose as well. For infants and very small children, place your mouth over the nose and mouth of the child to deliver rescue breaths.

Rescue breaths leverage the remaining oxygen when you exhale to provide relief to someone in distress. If the rescue breaths do not go in, assuming the person was not choking, attempt to reposition the head and tongue. This is achieved by re-tilting the head and/or performing a jaw thrust. Grasp the person’s chin; pull out and upward slightly.

If upon attempting to administer rescue breaths, you are still unsuccessful, the person was likely choking and did not display any signs or indicators for help. In these cases, it is important to resume CPR steps. It may seem like more work than a single person can perform. However, each action taken increases chances of survival. If others are nearby, solicit their help. Anyone can perform rescue breaths or chest compressions at your direction.

Just one person knowing how to respond empowers an entire area of people to help when something goes wrong.

7. Continue Until EMS Arrives

The final step to remember is the need to continue repeating the process until professional help arrives. CPR is performing in rounds of 30 chest compressions to two rescue breaths. Most importantly, do not leave the person until someone else is able to take over care. You will also need to explain to first responders what you saw and how long it has been since the person entered cardiac arrest. Of course, an exact timeline may not be possible, but any information can help first responders save a life.

What About High-Quality CPR Steps

High-quality CPR revolves around the need to provide the best care possible for someone suffering cardiac or respiratory arrest. It includes these key steps:

  1. Ensure appropriate chest compression depth. Chest compression depth is approximately two inches for an adult and not more than 2.4 inches, explains the Mayo Clinic.
  2. Allow for chest recoil between compressions. For compressions to be effective, you must allow a moment for the chest to recoil. This will occur naturally, and it requires you to fully remove force from the chest for a split-second. However, do not remove your hands from the person’s chest at all. This is the best way to avoid unnecessary delays in providing care.
  3. Get an AED if possible. Using an AED is one of the best ways to save lives when providing CPR. In today’s world, more AEDs are available in public and recreational locations than ever before. Schools, community centers and shopping malls may have AED available and ready to use. Most AEDs will be easy to spot and signage. Apply the AED pads at the end of a set of chest compressions and when another person is administering rescue breaths. Most AEDs will include visual instructions for pad placement. Upon turning on the device, it will assess electrical activity of the heart, advising when to not touch a person, clear for a shock, deliver a shock and resume CPR.
  4. Never stop CPR in an emergency. This is the most important aspect of high-quality CPR. Never stop performing CPR until someone else can take over care or the person regains consciousness. However, anyone that has suffered such an event will still need to be examined by a medical profession, so stay with the person until professional help arrives.

How to Respond to Potential Stroke Victims

For those that may exhibit the signs of stroke, cardiac arrest is still possible. Stroke refers to the blockage of blood vessels within the brain, and while it commonly caused by a blood-clot or air trapped in the circulatory system, it may also occur when a person suffers cardiac arrest. In other words, stroke may be the result of or even the cause of cardiac arrest. As a result, it is important to follow these steps for the conscious victim:

  • Ask the person to smile. Look for any signs of facial paralysis
  • Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “the earth round”
  • Activate EMS
  • Stay with the person until help arrives

Know When and How to Apply the Leading CPR Steps

Performing CPR is a high-intensity exercise that will help those suffering respiratory distress or cardiac arrest survive until EMS arrives. While the steps may vary slightly based on the exact needs of the person, such as someone who becomes unconscious while choking, they mirror one another. Regardless of your profession or personal goals, obtaining your CPR Certification should be a top priority.

Have you ever performed the key CPR steps outside of the workplace? If so, share your experiences along with this article to social media now, and remember to enroll in your life-saving skills course to ensure you know how to respond.

About Greta

Greta is a dedicated life saver and a distinguished expert in the field of medical content creation and editing. Her impressive array of certifications in ACLS, CPR, PALS, and BLS underscores her commitment to excellence in the medical field. With over four years of invaluable experience in medical education, Greta plays an indispensable role within the Advanced Medical Certification team, shaping the way healthcare professionals around the world acquire and apply vital knowledge.

Greta's profound expertise serves as the driving force behind the development and distribution of medical content that has significantly enhanced the capabilities of countless healthcare practitioners across the globe.

In addition to her medical qualifications, Greta holds a prestigious academic distinction in Marketing and Global Business from Vilnius University. Her academic journey has been enriched by immersive studies in Slovakia and Portugal during her time as an exchange student, providing her with a global perspective that complements her medical expertise.

Beyond her professional commitments, Greta possesses a genuine passion for global exploration, with a particular focus on immersing herself in diverse cultures and appreciating the intricacies of the natural world. While residing in Vilnius, Lithuania, she continues to make substantial contributions to the field of medical education, leaving an indelible mark on the sector.

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  1. Taylor Bishop says:

    I wanted to thank you for this advice for CPR. It’s good to know that it’s important to recognize emergencies, since it can happen at any time. It sounds important to be trained on this especially if it can help you spot emergencies much quicker.

    1. Mackenzie Thompson says:

      You’re welcome Taylor, we appreciate your kind comment! Thank you for learning how to save a life!

  2. Kels says:

    Today me and my fiancé and a group of friends saved a man that was having cardiac arrest … he was no longer breathing and had been not breathing for a min befor we found him. We immediately took steps to setting up for cpr started compressions with two rescue breaths ! We alll worked as a team telling each other how to do things and we saved this mans life!!! It was scary as hell and for a moment we all thought this man wasn’t going to make it but thank the lord we got to him on time and we were able to revive him!! It felt good to say we saved a life today and actually did it as a team and the right way!!! Thanks for this page cause this is how I knew what to do so well!!!

    1. Mackenzie Thompson says:

      Thank you for being a lifesaver and sharing your story with us! We are honored to know that our training materials have empowered you to save a life!

  3. HealthForce Training Center says:

    I learn new information from your article , you are doing a great job . Keep it up.

    1. Greta Kviklyte says:

      Thank you for the feedback! I’m glad you learned something new! Thanks for reading!

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