What's it like: To give CPR

by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: June 29, 2013 at 8:02 pm •  Published: June 30, 2013

When is CPR applicable?

CPR is a lifesaving technique that's used when a person's heart stops, they're not breathing or they're not breathing regularly.

With summer in full swing, people are spending more time in pools and lakes. Performing CPR on someone who has nearly drowned could be an effective way to help them, once they're removed from the water.

Also, you might perform CPR on someone who isn't breathing who has suffered a heart attack, been shocked or suffered from an allergic reaction.

You're trying to keep a person's vital organs alive, especially their brain. Permanent brain damage begins after only four minutes without oxygen, and death can occur as soon as four to six minutes later. Being able to provide that care and keep oxygen flowing to brain can be vitally important.

What happens when you give CPR?

During CPR, you will give 30 chest compressions and two breaths.

To begin, you will check the person for responsiveness. If the person doesn't respond, call 911. You or someone else on the scene should stay on the phone with the operator until emergency medical help shows up.

The person needs to be on their back. You generally do not move the person unless they're unsafe. Also, to perform CPR, you have to have your victim on a hard flat surface, and they must be facing up. If they're on a bed, CPR won't likely be effective.

For adults, you generally begin with chest compressions. You will place the heel of your hand in the center of the person's chest on the breastbone. You will place the heel of your other hand on top of the first hand.

It's important that you lock your elbows. Your body should be directly over your hands.

As you lock your elbows, you will press straight down with your upper body. This will better ensure that you're using your upper body strength and not just your arms. Hopefully, this will help you tire less quickly.

You want to let the chest rise completely. You will give a total of 30 compressions, counting each one out loud quickly. You want to give the compressions at a rate of about 100 each minute, faster than one each second.

After the chest compressions, you will breath into the person's mouth twice. Each breath should take about a second and make the chest rise. You will pinch their nose and make sure your mouth covers their mouth tightly. You want to keep their chin lifted and head tilted. If their chest doesn't rise, you might try adjusting their head back gently.

The amount of force you use will depend on whether you're performing CPR on an infant, child or adult. For an adult, you need to press at least two inches deep. For a child, you press two inches, which is about one-third the depth of the chest. For an infant, you want to press 1 inches into the center of the chest.

With a child, you will use the heel of your hand in the center of the chest. Depending on your own personal size and strength, you might use one or two hands. If you're a larger person with a lot of strength, you might use only one hand. If you're an average-sized person, you might use two hands. With an infant, you generally use two or three fingers, pressing in the center of the chest, just below the nipples.

Also, with infants, be careful not to tilt the head back too far.

What are the risks?

During CPR, you might crack or break a victim's rib. Some studies quote up to 30 percent of cardiac arrest victims have broken ribs as a result of CPR. This happens more frequently the older the victim since the cartilage is less elastic, and the bones can easily crack. But remember, you're trying to save their life, and a cracked rib is a much better outcome than the person not waking up.

How long do you perform CPR?

You generally will continue CPR until either the person shows signs of life or trained medical professionals arrive. Also, if someone arrives with an automated external defibrillator, you generally will perform CPR in conjunction with the use of the AED.

Sometimes people must stop performing CPR because the scene is no longer safe. Also, some people have to stop because they do not have the energy to continue. If someone else is available, you should trade off performing CPR. You could trade every two minutes, counting out loud and yelling, “Change” when you're ready to switch.

CPR is not always 100 percent successful, but by performing CPR, you're giving that person a chance at life.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, medicine and fitness, among other things. She graduated from Oklahoma State University with a news-editorial and broadcast production degree. Outside of work, she enjoys riding her bike, taking pictures of...
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