CPR for Adults

Written by Kristeen Moore | Published on July 18, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD


Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency procedure used to provide breathing and blood circulation for someone experiencing cardiac arrest. There are different CPR procedures for adults and children; this article describes CPR for adults.

Cardiac arrest occurs when your breathing and heartbeat stop and is deadly if untreated. Symptoms of cardiac arrest include:

  • gasping for air
  • no breathing
  • no pulse
  • unconsciousness

A heart attack can cause cardiac arrest. However, cardiac arrest and a heart attack aren’t the same. You don’t necessarily need to perform CPR on a person having a heart attack.

Common causes of cardiac arrest include:

  • accidental drowning
  • bloodstream infections
  • drug overdose
  • excessive bleeding
  • injuries

Always call 9-1-1 when someone is displaying these symptoms. CPR can help prevent loss of life while you are waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

The Steps of CPR: Circulation, Airway, and Breathing

The goal of CPR is to resuscitate a person whose breathing or pulse has stalled. The technique involves rescue breathing, as well as, chest compressions.

Before getting started, remember to focus on circulation, airway, and breathing (CAB).

  • To regain blood circulation, place the heel of your hand over the center of the individual’s chest and push. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should compress the chest by two inches and push 100 times per minute.
  • Next, you need to clear the airway. After pushing the chest at least 30 times, tilt the individual’s head and lift the chin in a forward position. Perform mouth-to-mouth breathing if you suspect a lack of breathing.
  • Rescue breathing is necessary for individuals who show signs of not being able to take in oxygen through the lungs. Remember that gasping for air is not normal breathing, and CPR should be initiated. If the mouth is injured and can’t be opened, you can perform rescue breathing into the individual’s nose. Give two quick breaths and watch for the chest to rise. If the chest doesn’t rise, repeat the CAB cycle.
  • If you don’t know formal CPR, the American Red Cross recommends performing hands-only CPR. This helps increase blood circulation to prevent death. After calling 9-1-1, push hard on the center of the individual’s chest. Repeat this in a fast motion. Many people are afraid to perform hands-only CPR, but the fact is that it is worse to take no action.

It is also important to know that techniques vary between CPR procedures for adults, children, and infants. Never perform adult CPR on children.

Results: How CPR Can Help

The result greatly depends on how long the person has been in cardiac arrest, as well as, the severity of his or her condition. CPR may help start a person’s pulse and start them breathing again. Continuously check for breathing until emergency medical help arrives.

Waiting for an ambulance without performing CPR can have serious health consequences. A lack of blood and oxygen flow can cause permanent brain damage. Death can occur in worse case scenarios. This is why it is so important to initiate CPR as soon as possible. Call 9-1-1 before performing CPR, or have someone else place the call.

How to Learn CPR

Cardiac arrest can occur anywhere, at any time, and CPR is a valuable tool to help others in life-threatening situations. Learning CPR can save someone’s life. If a loved one has heart or coronary artery disease, it is even more important to learn the procedure.

Learning from a professional instructor is the most effective way to learn the details. Visit redcross.org for a list of free CPR classes in your area. Retake a CPR class every two years to make sure your skills are intact.

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