Hands-only CPR is a lifesaver
Dan Neenan is a medical paramedic. He knows that when people call 911 to report a medical emergency, time stands still while they wait for help.
“Three to four minutes is an eternity,” he says.
Nearly 90% of cardiac emergencies occur at home. Effective CPR provided immediately can double or triple survival rates. In rural areas, where rescuers travel greater distances, CPR is even more critical.
“CPR is a stopgap step to keep blood flowing until trained personnel arrive,” Neenan says. “After four minutes, you begin to lose brain tissue. The survival rate drops with each minute.”
But many people don’t feel qualified to perform traditional CPR. They worry they’ll make a life-threatening mistake.
Last year, for the first time, a large American study revealed that more adults survive cardiac arrest when they receive continuous chest presses to simulate a heartbeat, compared to traditional CPR with mouth-to-mouth breathing.
A University of Washington study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine also suggested that a hands-only procedure is the best approach when CPR is being given by a layperson.
For almost 40 years, CPR guidelines instructed rescuers to follow the A-B-C instructions (airway, breath, and chest compressions). The American Heart Association (AHA) revised its guidelines in 2010, starting with the C for chest compressions, followed by airway and breath (CAB). (Compressions alone are OK if you’re not CPR-trained.)
This simplified method eliminates the confusion of knowing a required ratio of breaths-to-chest compressions.
“People hesitate to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and so they often delay,” says Neenan, who is manager of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) in Peosta, Iowa. “We tell people to remember that every compression is one more heartbeat than the person would have otherwise.”
Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. “Cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses to the heart become erratic,” Neenan says. “A heart attack is caused by a blockage in the artery. A heart attack may cause cardiac arrest.”
If someone else is available, start chest compressions while a 911 call is made. If an automatic external defibrillator (AED) is available, follow the AED’s voice prompts. Here are four steps rescuers need to remember: