Harvard Heart Letter

Heart beat: Hands-only CPR

Heart beat

Hands-only CPR

If you see someone collapse and stop breathing, call 911 and then start pushing hard and fast on the middle of the person's chest, even if you've never been trained to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Don't stop to give mouth-to-mouth breaths unless you want to and know what you are doing. That's the latest advice from the American Heart Association, in an update of its 2005 guidelines on CPR (Circulation, April 22, 2008).

Receiving bystander CPR more than doubles an individual's chances of surviving a cardiac arrest. Yet the majority of folks who collapse in front of other people never get that help. Some bystanders hold off because they worry they won't do CPR right; others fear having to do mouth-to-mouth breathing. In an effort to get more people to do CPR, the heart association is giving the green light to hands-only CPR.

The change makes sense. For people stricken by a cardiac arrest, compressing the chest is just as good as alternating chest compressions with mouth-to-mouth breathing. That's because their blood is generally full of oxygen.

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