Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

What is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is given when someone's breathing or pulse unexpectedly stops. If both stop, then sudden death occurs. Some of the causes of sudden death include poisoning, drowning, choking, suffocation, electrocution, or smoke inhalation. But, the most common cause of sudden death is from heart attack.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Below are the most common symptoms of a heart attack. But each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe pressure, fullness, squeezing, pain, or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes. The pain is often described as "an elephant sitting on my chest"

  • Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms, or jaw

  • Chest pain that gets worse

  • Chest pain that doesn't go away after rest or by taking prescription heart medicine

  • Chest pain that happens with any or all of the following (additional) symptoms of a heart attack:

    • Sweating, cool, clammy skin, or paleness

    • Shortness of breath

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Dizziness or fainting

    • Unexplained weakness or fatigue

    • Rapid or irregular pulse

Although chest pain is the key warning sign of a heart attack, it may be confused with indigestion, lung conditions, or other disorders. It's important to note that not all of these symptoms are present in every heart attack. It's also important to note that women or people with diabetes often have uncommon symptoms when they have a heart attack. Instead of chest pain, they may just have jaw pain, or only tiredness or shortness of breath. It's also possible to have very few or no symptoms during a heart attack ("silent heart attack"). 

If you or someone you know has any of the above warning signs, act right away. Call 911 or your local emergency number. Most heart attacks don't lead to sudden cardiac death right away and don't need CPR. If needed, give CPR if you are trained, or ask someone who is. CPR certification means you have had the necessary training and practice and can comfortably do this lifesaving technique.

How can I be trained in CPR?

Both the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association (AHA)give excellent training programs in CPR, which helps to save thousands of lives each year. Contact your local office, go to their websites, or ask your healthcare provider for more information on becoming trained in CPR.

About hands-only CPR

When a person collapses suddenly and isn't breathing or has no pulse, bystanders are often reluctant to help with CPR for fear of doing it wrong or making the situation worse. Or they may be uncomfortable with giving mouth-to-mouth breathing to a stranger. Because less than one-third of sudden cardiac arrest victims get CPR before they get to the hospital, the AHA is promoting hands-only CPR. The technique consists of 2 steps: call 911, then push hard and fast in the center of the victim's chest. Hands-only CPR can help a heart attack victim survive 3 to 5 minutes . This may be enough time until emergency medical services arrive. Don't stop CPR until help arrives with a defibrillator. This is a machine that can shock the heart back into a working rhythm. Continue, until someone with more experience relieves you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2019
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