When someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, CPR can easily be the difference between life and death.
The chance of survival decreases by 10% with every minute that passes without defibrillation. So if CPR is not started immediately, the patient will likely die while you wait for an ambulance or defibrillator to be found.
This is why it’s so important for as many people as possible to learn how to do CPR. The best way to do this is by attending a life saving skills course.
However, if you want to revise the correct method before you go, or top up your knowledge from a previous course, here’s a quick run through of how to perform CPR.
How to perform CPR on an adult
Before responding to the patient, make sure that an ambulance has been called, preferable by someone else at the scene whilst you attend to the patient.
According to the European Resuscitation Council guidelines, which were updated in April 2020, all “lay rescuers” (i.e. community first responders and members of the public) should use compression-only CPR when attempting to resuscitate an adult.
This is also known as hands-only CPR – as there are no rescue breaths involved. This is to help protect the rescuer from risking their own health through ‘mouth to mouth’ contact.
You can also wear PPE (personal protective equipment) such as a mask and gloves, or gently put a mask/towel over the patient’s mouth and nose, if you wish.
How to carry out chest compressions:
Once you have protected yourself and the patient, follow these next steps to carry out chest compressions.
1. Put the heel of your hand on the patient’s sternum (breastbone). This will be in the centre of their chest. When your first hand is in the right position, put your other hand on top and interlock your fingers.
2. Shift your weight so your shoulders are directly above your hands. You should now be leaning over the patient’s chest.
3. Using your body weight, press straight down by about 5-6cm on their chest.
4. Keeping your hand on their chest, release your weight and let their chest return to its normal position.
5. Repeat this process at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute. Continue performing the chest compressions until an ambulance arrives.
How to perform CPR on a child
Performing CPR on a child is slightly different to performing CPR on an adult.
This is partly due to their size – you should only use one hand for chest compressions on a child, rather than two.
Additionally, the ERC guidelines recommend that rescue breaths are also used for resuscitating a child.
1. Remove any visible obstructions from the child’s airway. Place one hand on their forehead, carefully tilting their head back to lift their chin.
2. Pinch the patient’s nose, seal your mouth over theirs, and blow firmly into their mouth for one second. You should see their chest rise. Do this five times.
3. Place just one hand on the centre of the child’s chest and push down 5cm. This should be about one third of the chest diameter. Use two hands if you can’t compress the chest 5cm with just one hand.
4. Perform 30 chest compressions at a rate of 100 – 120 per minute.
5. Give two rescue breaths, as per the instructions above.
6. Repeat the cycle of 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths until they begin to recover, or help arrives.
How to perform CPR on an infant under one
Performing CPR on a baby is similar to doing CPR on a child, as it involves both rescue breaths and chest compressions.
1. Carry out steps 1 and 2 for carrying out CPR on a child.
2. After you’ve given 5 initial rescue breaths, place two fingers on the middle of the infant’s chest and push down 4cm. This should be approximately one-third of the chest diameter. Use the heel of your hand if you can’t achieve the correct depth with two fingers.
3. Carry out 30 chest compressions at a rate of 100 – 120 per minute.
4. Give two rescue breaths.
5. Repeat the cycle of 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths until they begin to recover, or help arrives.
How else can you help?
If there is a defibrillator to hand, you can use it to help an adult or a child over the age of one. Public access AEDs usually have on-screen and spoken instructions, so anyone can use them to help save a life – even with no training.
However, if you are on your own, do not cease performing CPR to seek out a defibrillator. For as long as you are able, you must continue CPR until the ambulance arrives.
Remember: once the emergency services have arrived and taken over, it’s important to protect yourself too. Always wash your hands thoroughly, remove and dispose of any PPE, and wash all your clothing as soon as possible, after helping a patient.
As the ERC guidelines say, “the time required to achieve safe care is an acceptable part of the resuscitation process.” So taking precautions both before and after starting CPR is an important part of protecting patients, rescuers, and bystanders alike.
After all, if you can prevent the spread of infection, you never know who else’s life you might be saving in the process.