What is CPR?

What is CPR - your questions answered

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s a life saving medical procedure which is given to someone who is in cardiac arrest. It helps to pump blood around the person's body when their heart can’t.

To carry out CPR 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.

What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest is caused by an electrical problem in the heart. This electrical problem causes the heart to stop pumping blood around the body and to the brain.

Cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Heart attack is a circulation problem.

It causes the person to fall unconscious and stop breathing. Without CPR the person will die within minutes.

CPR should only be used if someone is:

  • unconscious and not breathing
  • unconscious and not breathing normally.

Learn how to how to do CPR

If someone is unconscious but they are breathing normally call 999 and then put them in the recovery position.

What will happen if their heart is beating but they are 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.

How long should I continue CPR?

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 people nearby.

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. 

Is a cardiac arrest the same as a heart attack?

No, but both are medical emergencies so you should call 999 immediately.

A heart attack happens when 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 or discomfort. A person having a heart attack is usually still conscious and breathing.

If a heart attack isn’t treated, it can lead to a cardiac arrest.

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.

How do defibrillators help?

When a person has a cardiac arrest a defibrillator can be used to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.

Defibrillators are simple and safe to use, and will not shock unless it’s appropriate. They’re available to the public in busy locations like shopping centres, sports stadiums and train stations across the UK.