Saving life with hands-only CPR


Imagine you’ve just seen someone collapse in front of you. You dial 999 straight away, and the operator tells you how to check their breathing and pulse while you wait for an ambulance.

Many people who aren’t medically trained would stop there and wait for the professionals to handle the rest. After all, you wouldn’t want to do something wrong and cause more harm than good.

But actually, studies show that if bystanders attempted even hands-only CPR, more people -could survive sudden cardiac arrest.

Even hands-only helps

Most of us see CPR as a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths. But if you’ve not had a training session in a while, the idea of performing mouth-to-mouth on a collapsed stranger might be intimidating. As a result, lots of bystanders would rather wait for an ambulance than attempt CPR themselves.

That’s why a group of Swedish researchers decided to investigate the impact of hands-only CPR – a more accessible option that allows 999 operators to dictate instructions over the phone.

The researchers examined 18 years’ worth of data, covering 30,445 patients, who had out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests witnessed by a bystander. Before the arrival of the emergency services, patients were categorised as having received no CPR, standard CPR, or chest-compression-only CPR. And the results were fascinating.

The study found that using ANY form of CPR doubled the patient’s chance of survival.

Hands-on CPR

But is hands-only CPR as effective as standard CPR?

While the study did not investigate the difference made by adding rescue breaths, it found that even hands-only CPR offered a two-fold increase in survival rates.

So clearly, any CPR is better than no CPR.

It’s worth noting that in situations like drowning, you MUST perform rescue breaths as part of your cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

However, where the patient is likely to still have air in their lungs (such as after sudden cardiac arrest), chest compressions alone should help to pump the remaining oxygen around the body until the emergency services can take over.

So what can we conclude from this?

The Director of the Centre for Resuscitation Science at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, Dr Jacob Hollenberg, told Reuters he suspected that more people would be willing to learn hands-only CPR than the traditional method.

This can only be a good thing, as when more people learn CPR of any kind, more people will survive sudden cardiac arrest.

Dr Clifton Callaway, Vice Chair of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, agrees. As he told Reuters: “If you don’t choose to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, you can still do chest compressions and help somebody with cardiac arrest.”

“Chest compressions will buy you some time until someone comes to get the heart started again.”

Top up your CPR knowledge with Cardiac Science

You can view our illustrated guide to CPR here, or take our rescue-ready quiz to put your skills to the test. And don’t forget: any CPR is better than no CPR. If you witness an emergency and choose to act rather than wait, you could help save a life.

Talk to our team today about CPR training in your workplace, or to install a defibrillator in your community.

Learn more about sudden cardiac arrest and defibrillators in our Education hub

‘Survival in Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest After Standard Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or Chest Compressions Only Before Arrival of Emergency Medical Services’, Gabriel Riva et al., 2019. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.038179

‘Hands-only CPR vs. CPR with breaths’, American Heart Association. https://cpr.heart.org/idc/groups/ahaecc-public/@wcm/@ecc/documents/downloadable/ucm_495656.pdf

‘More people might survive cardiac arrest if more bystanders tried hands-only CPR’, Linda Carroll, Reuters UK, 2019.
https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-cpr/more-people-might-survive-cardiac-arrest-if-more-bystanders-tried-hands-only-cpr-idUKKCN1RD37U