What is CPR?

What is CPR - your questions answered

More than 30,000 cardiac arrests happen out of hospital in the UK each year.

Less than one in ten of these people survive.

What is CPR?

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is an emergency procedure of manual chest compressions and rescue breaths, performed to help save a person’s life who is in cardiac arrest.

You should only perform CPR when someone is unconscious and not breathing or not breathing normally. If they are breathing normally and unconscious, you should still call 999 and then place them in the recovery position.

What is a cardiac arrest?

During a cardiac arrest, 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 most commonly 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, they won’t respond to you and they’ll 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 for a defibrillator, if one is available.

How does CPR help?

When a person is in cardiac arrest, their heart can’t pump blood to the vital organs and the rest of the body. If the person doesn’t receive help immediately they will die within minutes. By performing chest compressions and rescue breaths, you are taking over the role of their heart and lungs, pumping blood and oxygen to their vital organs.

Every second counts, because a delay quickly reduces a person’s chance of survival. A delay can also lead to permanent damage to the person’s brain if they do survive.

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. Those available to the public work automatically and provide instructions and will not deliver a shock unless one is necessary.

Defibrillators are simple and safe to be used by anyone. They can be found in busy locations such as shopping centres, sports stadia and train stations across the UK.

How long should I continue CPR?

You must always call 999 before starting CPR. Continue performing CPR until professional help arrives and takes over, the person starts to show signs of regaining consciousness, or you become exhausted. Doing chest compressions is tiring. If other bystanders are there, guide them to take turns with you.

Signs of regaining consciousness include:

  • coughing
  • opening their eyes
  • speaking or moving purposefully
  • starting to breathe normally

Stop CPR at this point.

If they are breathing normally but still unconscious, put them into the recovery position and continue to monitor 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 will deteriorate into cardiac arrest 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. Imagine being faced with the prospect of not knowing what to do if this happened to a member of your family.

There is no better time than now to learn CPR. Know it and one day you could help save a life.

Read the stories of our everyday heroes.