When a heart stops, seconds matter. But too often, when someone has a cardiac arrest away from a hospital, people in a position to help don’t.
Misunderstandings about CPR can keep people from acting. That costs lives. We asked experts to help clear things up.
You can’t wait.
If you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, call 911 and don’t wait for professional rescuers, says Dr. Jose Cabañas, chief medical officer for Wake County, North Carolina.
Each minute that CPR is delayed decreases the odds of survival by about 10%, research has shown. But having a bystander perform CPR doubles or triples the chances of somebody surviving, says Cabañas, who helped write the American Heart Association’s 2020 CPR guidelines.
The steps for responding to a cardiac arrest, according to the AHA, are:
- Check for responsiveness.
- Call 911 or, if other people are on hand, have a second bystander make the call. 911 operators can guide rescuers through CPR.
- Begin CPR while a second bystander retrieves an automated external defibrillator, or AED, if one is nearby. Do not stop CPR to go look for an AED.
To perform CPR, place the heel of one hand in the center of the chest. Place the other hand on top and interlock the fingers. Push straight down hard and fast at 100 to 120 beats a minute. (That’s the rhythm of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” You can also have someone search Google for “metronome” and enter “110.”)
You don’t need certification.
Training is great, and refresher courses are important, says Dr. Elizabeth Hunt, a professor of pediatric critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. But you “absolutely” do not have to have a card to perform CPR.
“I advocate getting training,” says Hunt, who helped write a 2022 AHA scientific statement on lay responders and CPR. “But it is not necessary to save a life.”
Don’t waste time checking for a pulse.
If you see someone collapse, Hunt says, shake the patient gently and ask, “Are you OK?”
If they are not breathing or are breathing with “agonal breaths,” when breathing is abnormal or it appears the person is gasping for air, start CPR.
People used to be told to check for a pulse. “But lay providers don’t need to do that,” Hunt shares. Find the spot in the