Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a way of trying to restart a person’s heart and breathing if they stop. When the heart stops beating, this is known as a cardiac arrest. If the breathing stops, this is called a respiratory arrest. Usually, both happen at the same time. This is known as a cardiopulmonary arrest. If a person having a cardiopulmonary arrest does not have their heart and breathing restarted quickly, they will die.
Sometimes a heart attack can cause the heart to stop, but not in all cases. A person’s heart or breathing can stop for a number of different reasons.
Different treatments can be used to help restart a person’s heart or breathing. The first treatment is usually CPR. This involves pushing down again and again on the person’s chest to keep the heart pumping blood around the body. This action is called a chest compression. CPR may also include blowing air into the person’s mouth to push oxygen into their lungs.
If CPR is given in the community, this may be the only treatment available until an ambulance arrives.
If CPR is given in hospital, the doctors or nurses will also use other treatments. They may give drugs and use specialist equipment to give oxygen. They will use a machine called a defibrillator to monitor any heartbeat. The defibrillator can also give shocks that may start the heart again.
Some public places, such as airports or shopping centres, keep a type of automated defibrillator. This can be used without any specialised training to give shocks that may restart the heart.
A cardiopulmonary arrest is an emergency medical situation and can be frightening. It can be distressing to see someone being given CPR, especially if it’s a loved one. Close family and friends may be asked to leave the area while CPR is given, though some people choose to stay with their loved one. The healthcare team involved will give support and information to any family or friends when they can.