Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Gasping shouldn't delay CPR

Heart Beat

Gasping shouldn't delay CPR

While coming out of the theater, you see a fellow moviegoer collapse. You rush over to see if you can help. He isn't moving and doesn't have a pulse, but he gasps for breath every so often. What do you do?

Start CPR as soon as you are sure other folks are calling 911 and looking for a portable defibrillator. Don't let the breathing noises fool you — one-third or more of people whose hearts suddenly stop beating will periodically gasp for breath, snort, moan, or gurgle. It's actually an encouraging sign. In a study from Phoenix, 39% of gaspers who received CPR were revived and survived, compared with 9% of those without any breathing sounds (Circulation, Dec. 9, 2008). Gasping also means you can forgo mouth-to-mouth breathing, at least for the first few minutes. Concentrate on pressing — hard — on the middle of the person's chest as often as you can, about twice a second. If the person gasps or makes breathing sounds while you are doing CPR, don't stop. It doesn't mean he or she is recovering from the attack. But it is a sign that your efforts are effective.

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