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CPR stands for Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. It involves a combination of rescue breathing and chest compressions, designed to keep oxygen rich blood flowing to the brain and other parts of the body. Without oxygen and blood to the brain, permanent brain damage and death can occur in less than 8 minutes.

The Purpose of CPR

The purpose of chest compressions is to indent the chest cavity enough that it compresses the heart, thus manually pumping it to circulate blood throughout the body. As complicated an organ as the heart is, it can be worked merely by massaging or compressing it, which is what CPR does. Pushing down on the chest compresses the heart, letting up releases it, so by performing chest compressions, you are mimicking a heart beat to keep blood circulating throughout the body.

When it comes to CPR, many people think that you are performing CPR to get a person’s heart started. In reality, performing CPR will not start a persons heart in most cases, although you are more likely to be able to do so in children than in adults. This is a common misconception that comes from watching too many TV shows that depict a person trying CPR to get the person’s heart started again, and then giving up after a minute. The main function of CPR is to continue to keep the circulation of blood flowing to the brain until paramedics can arrive to restart the person’s heart. You are basically pumping the heart for them, in an attempt to avoid brain death. When paramedics arrive, they can use electrical shock, drugs such as epinephrine, and other more effective means of actually restarting the heart. Just because you failed to get a response initially does not mean you should stop. You should continue until help arrives or you are too exhausted to go further.

Important information about performing CPR:

  1. It’s no longer necessary to perform mouth to mouth on an adult as part of the procedure. Studies have shown stopping to perform mouth to mouth does not improve survival rate, and stopping for rescue breaths may actually make it worse by interrupting blood flow. There are two exceptions to this rule: Cases involving children, and anyone whose cardiac arrest is due to oxygen deprivation, such as a drowning victim.
  1. Don’t be timid! It’s impossible to cause further injury to a dead person. Authorities say many people fail to offer help because they are unsure of themselves, or are squeamish about performing CPR on a stranger (one of the reasons the mouth to mouth part was lifted). Some help is better than no help at all. It’s not rocket science; all you’re doing is pumping a person’s chest to keep blood circulating. So if you don’t do it perfectly, that’s OK.

How to perform CPR on an adult

Step 1: Place the palm of your hand on the middle of the victim’s chest, between the breast muscles and approximately 2 finger widths above the edge of their sternum, which is where the rib cage housing ends and the stomach begins.

Step 2: Place your second arm over your first, and position yourself so that you are over the victim with a relatively straight line from palm to shoulders.

Step 3: Firmly press down on the victim’s chest to a depth of about 2 inches and a rate of around 100 times a minute. If you imagine singing the disco song ‘Staying Alive,’ you want to perform CPR to the rate of this beat. Push with your shoulders and body, not with your arms. If you’re doing it right, it will be exhausting. It helps to have another person there who you can take over if you get tired, or visa versa.

Continue the procedure until paramedics arrive, the person’s heart starts, or until you are too exhausted to continue. It helps to have someone monitoring the pulse while you are performing CPR.

Other tips for performing CPR

  1. Most experts say it’s impossible to do CPR too hard or too fast. Most people perform it too slowly and not hard enough.
  1. On an adult, you may hear ribs breaking or cartilage cracking. This is normal; in fact, if you’re doing it right and pressing hard enough, it’s going to shake up their rib cage a little. This does not mean you’re doing it wrong or harming them.
  1. Worry more about mechanics than details of repetitions. I remember from all my CPR classes that one of the biggest sticking points that people struggled with was remembering the proper number of chest compressions to rescue breaths for each age group. Not only was it somewhat confusing, but it was changing all the time. At first it was 15 chest compressions for 2 rescue breaths; then it was 10 to one; now for kids it’s 30 to 2. Don’t get too intimidated by these details. CPR is not a math problem. The fact that you’re pumping the heart and keeping blood oxygenated is more important than the minute details of how you do it. These guidelines change according to what studies show to be most successful, and you should try to adhere to the latest ones, but don’t let yourself get insecure if you forget the number. Just jump into a rhythm and keep the chest pumping with a couple rescue breaths in-between.

Taking CPR Classes

CPR classes are recommended for all parents. It is a good thing to know, and may be used more often than you think. It can be completed in a day on the weekend. Instructors will teach you techniques, methods, and let you get real life practice on mannequins of infants, children, and adults.

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