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Master the Life-Saving Technique: 11 Essential CPR Steps to Learn

Updated: May 31, 2023

When someone's heart stops, every second counts. When a cardiac arrest happens outside of a hospital, bystanders can often help save a life. Unfortunately, many misunderstandings about CPR prevent people from acting in time. To help you learn the essential steps, we've asked experts to clear things up for you.

  1. Act fast. If you witness someone experiencing cardiac arrest, do not wait for professional rescuers to arrive. Instead, immediately call 911 and follow the steps for responding to a cardiac arrest. Research has shown that every minute that CPR is delayed decreases the odds of survival by about 10%. However, having a bystander perform CPR can double or triple the chances of someone surviving.

  2. Check for responsiveness. First, check if the person is responsive by tapping their shoulder and shouting. If they do not respond, proceed with the next steps.

  3. Call 911. If you are alone, call 911 and put your phone on speaker so that the operator can guide you through the process. If other people are around, ask a second bystander to call 911 while you proceed with CPR.

  4. Begin CPR. Begin CPR immediately by placing one hand on top of the other at the center of the chest, interlocking your fingers. Push down hard and fast, at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute. This is the rhythm of the Bee Gees' song "Stayin' Alive." You can also use a metronome or an app like "AHA CPR & Choking" to keep the right pace.

  5. Retrieve an AED. Ask a second bystander to retrieve an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is nearby, while you continue performing CPR. Do not stop CPR to look for an AED.

  6. Don't wait for certification. While it is helpful to receive CPR training, you do not need certification to perform CPR. Training is great, and refresher courses are important, but you "absolutely" do not have to have a card to save a life.

  7. Don't waste time checking for a pulse. If you see someone collapse, do not waste time checking for a pulse. Shake the person gently and ask, "Are you OK?" If they do not respond or are breathing abnormally, begin CPR immediately.

  8. Don't be squeamish. CPR may require removing someone's clothing or cutting away bulky items to reach their chest or apply AED pads. It is important to be prepared for this possibility and not let squeamishness get in the way of saving a life.

  9. Don't fret about mouth-to-mouth. In recent years, training has shifted towards emphasizing hands-only CPR for the first few minutes, which has been shown to be as effective as conventional CPR with rescue breaths in the first few minutes after cardiac arrest in adults and teens. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is important for infants and children, as well as in cases where someone's heart stopped due to choking or drowning.

  10. Don't worry about hurting someone. One of the biggest misconceptions about CPR is that you can harm someone in cardiac arrest. In reality, the biggest risk is not doing anything. Good Samaritan laws protect those who provide life-saving care, so do not let concerns about legality or propriety stop you from performing CPR.

  11. Don't be afraid to move them. If someone has fallen in a twisted position, you may need to straighten them out to perform CPR properly. If they are on a bed or couch, lower them to the ground to perform CPR on a firm surface.

Cardiac arrests can happen anytime and anywhere, and learning CPR should be part of everyone's safety.

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