What is CPR?

What is CPR - your questions answered

Every year 30,000 people in the UK have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, but the survival rate is less than 1 in 10.

But we’re on a mission to change that. Join us in creating a Nation of Lifesavers – a nation where everyone knows how to save a life.

What is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is an emergency procedure in which a person presses up and down  on the casualty’s chest (chest compressions) and gives them a series of rescue breaths to help save their life when they are in cardiac arrest.

CPR is a procedure that should only be used when someone is unconscious and not breathing – or not breathing – normally. If someone is unconscious but they are breathing normally, you still need to call 999 and then put them in the recovery position.

What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body and to their brain. It causes the person to fall unconscious and stop breathing, or stop breathing normally. Without CPR the person will die within minutes.

Is a cardiac arrest the same as a heart attack?

No, a cardiac arrest and a heart attack are not the same. But a heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest.

During a heart attack, an artery supplying blood to the heart muscle becomes blocked. This starves part of the heart muscle of oxygen, and causes symptoms such as chest pain/discomfort – but the person is usually still conscious and breathing.

During a cardiac arrest the heart stops pumping blood around their body and to their brain. The person will fall unconscious, which means they won’t be able to respond to you. They will either stop breathing or won’t breathe normally.

Both a heart attack and a cardiac arrest are medical emergencies, so you should call 999 or 112 immediately and follow the instructions of the operator.

For a cardiac arrest this will include performing CPR immediately. Also ask the people around you for a defibrillator, if one is available.

How does CPR help?

By performing chest compressions and rescue breaths, you are taking over the role of their heart and lungs, pumping blood and oxygen around their body.

Every second counts – any delay can quickly reduce a person’s chance of survival. And if they do survive, delay can also cause permanent damage to the person’s brain.

How do defibrillators help?

A defibrillator is a device that can be used to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm during cardiac arrest. The ones available to the public work automatically and will not shock unless it is necessary.

They are simple and safe to be used by anyone. You can find them in busy locations like shopping centres, sports stadiums and train stations across the UK.

How long should I continue CPR?

You must always call 999 before starting CPR. Then keep doing CPR until professional help arrives and takes over, or the person starts to show signs of regaining consciousness. If you become exhausted, take turns with other bystanders.

Signs of regaining consciousness include:

  • Coughing
  • Opening their eyes
  • Speaking or moving purposefully
  • Starting to breathe normally

Stop CPR if the person regains consciousness. If the person starts to breath normally but still unconscious, put them into the recovery position and pay attention to their breathing until help arrives.

What will happen if their heart is beating but they are just not breathing?

This is called a respiratory arrest, and it will become a cardiac arrest quickly without CPR. Don’t waste time checking for a pulse – if someone is unresponsive and not breathing or not breathing normally then call 999 and start CPR.

Meet our CPR heroes

80% of out of hospital cardiac arrests happen in the home. If this happens to a member of your family, be prepared to act fast.

Learn CPR now and become a lifesaver.

Read the stories of our everyday heroes.