Harvard Women's Health Watch

Changing the rules on CPR for cardiac arrest

New studies show that skipping mouth-to-mouth breathing and focusing on pressing the chest boosts survival and brain protection.

When a person suddenly collapses from a cardiac arrest, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is his or her only chance of surviving. As traditionally taught, this type of emergency first aid has two main parts: pressing the chest (and thus the heart) to keep blood circulating through the body, and mouth-to-mouth breathing to supply oxygen. CPR guidelines call for alternating chest compressions with short breaths, in a ratio of 30 to 2. Some experts are calling for a simpler, easier procedure that focuses almost exclusively on compressing the chest.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of 325,000 Americans each year. It's an electrical or signaling problem that causes the heart's lower chambers to beat very fast or chaotically. It occurs suddenly, and with few warning signs. Almost immediately, the victim collapses, stops breathing, and loses pulse and blood pressure. By circulating blood to the brain and other vital organs, CPR can keep them functioning until someone arrives with a defibrillator to shock the heart back to life.

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