Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a way of trying to restart a person’s heart and breathing if they have stopped suddenly.
When the heart stops beating suddenly, 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 someone having a cardiopulmonary arrest does not have their heart and breathing restarted quickly, they will die.
A person’s heart or breathing can stop for different reasons. For example, a heart attack can cause the heart to stop.
CPR involves different treatments to help restart a person’s heart or breathing. The first treatment usually involves repeatedly pressing down on the person’s chest to help the heart pump blood around the body. This is called a chest compression. CPR may also include blowing air into the person’s mouth to push oxygen into their lungs. Unfortunately, these procedures can also cause injury, especially to someone who is frail or very ill. This can include broken ribs.
If CPR is given at home or in a public place, this may be the only treatment 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. They can also use the defibrillator to give shocks to start the heart again.
Some public places, such as airports or shopping centres, may have a portable defibrillator. This can be used to try to restart the heart. No specialised training is needed to use this.
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 is a loved one. The healthcare team involved will give support and information to any family or friends when they can. Close family and friends may be asked to leave the area while CPR is given. But some people choose to stay with their loved one.