Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a way of trying to restart the heart and breathing once they have stopped. When the heart stops beating, this is known as a cardiac arrest. If the breathing stops, this is called a respiratory arrest. They commonly occur together, and this is known as a cardiopulmonary arrest. Death will result if a cardiopulmonary arrest is not corrected quickly.
A cardiac or respiratory arrest may occur for a number of reasons and is different from a person having a heart attack, which is a particular medical condition.
CPR usually involves pushing down on the chest (chest compressions). Depending on the circumstances, it may include giving rescue breaths into the mouth or giving oxygen into the lungs. Medication is also often given, along with intensive support and monitoring.
CPR is different from other forms of resuscitation doctors might refer to – for example, using intravenous fluids to 'resuscitate' a person who is severely dehydrated.
If a person has a cardiopulmonary arrest in hospital, staff will sound an emergency alarm to alert the healthcare team that there is an emergency situation. An arrest or resuscitation trolley will be taken to the patient. The trolleys contain essential equipment and are available in the main areas of a hospital, as well as on every ward and in every clinic.
A resuscitation team will also be alerted to come to the patient. This includes a team of healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, who are experienced in dealing with emergency situations.
It can be extremely distressing to see CPR being attempted, especially if it’s a loved one who is unwell. Sometimes families will be asked to leave the area, and they will be kept informed of what is happening. Some families want to stay with their loved one whilst CPR is being carried out. They will be supported by medical staff if they choose to witness the resuscitation attempt.