Harvard Health Letter

New CPR guidelines: Simplicity to the rescue

Rapid chest compressions keep blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs, so push hard and push often.

For decades, the American Heart Association and other groups have promoted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as a way to save a life, even without a medical degree. Countless classes, books, and certifications are available. Hollywood has done its part, searing an unrealistic version of CPR into our imaginations with portrayals of heroic, lifesaving rescues.

The reality, though, is quite a bit different — and more complicated. For those stricken by sudden cardiac arrest outside the hospital, the survival rate is only about 5%, a figure that hasn't changed much over the years. CPR guidelines have been confusing, with the methods varying with the victim's age, the cause of the cardiac arrest, the number of rescuers present, and whether the rescuers have medical training.

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