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CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)

What is CPR?

CPR is given to someone when their breathing or heartbeat (pulse) stops. If both stop, they would die. A heart attack is the most common cause of sudden death. Other emergencies that can lead to the need for CPR include poisoning, drowning, choking, suffocation, electrocution, or smoke inhalation.

Giving someone CPR may include breathing air into their mouth. This sends oxygen to their lungs. You may also need to push hard and fast in the center of the victim's chest (chest compressions). This helps keep blood filled with oxygen moving through their body until medical help arrives or their own breathing and heartbeat restart.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

People don't always experience heart attack symptoms the same way. But some symptoms are more common, including:

  • 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 after taking prescription heart medicine

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

    • Sweating, cool, clammy, or pale skin

    • Shortness of breath

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Dizziness or fainting

    • Unexplained weakness or fatigue

    • Rapid or irregular pulse

Not all of the above symptoms are present in every heart attack. It's also possible to have very few or no symptoms during a heart attack (a silent heart attack).And although chest pain is the key warning sign of a heart attack, it can be confused with indigestion, lung conditions, or other disorders.

It's also important to note that women and people with diabetes often have uncommon symptoms during a heart attack. Instead of chest pain, they may just have jaw pain, only feel tired, or only have shortness of breath.  

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 death right away and don't need CPR. If needed, give CPR if you're trained or ask someone who is. CPR certification means you've had training and practice that enables you to do this lifesaving technique.

How can I be trained in CPR?

Both the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association (AHA) have excellent training programs in CPR, which help 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 giving mouth-to-mouth breathing to a stranger. Because less than 1/3 of sudden cardiac arrest victims get CPR before they get to the hospital, the AHA is promoting hands-only CPR.

The hands-on CPR technique consists of 2 steps:

  • Call 911.

  • Do chest compressions.

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 someone with more experience relieves you or help arrives with a defibrillator. This is a machine that can shock the heart back into a working rhythm.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2022
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.