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The New Hands-Only CPR and Why You Should Learn It

Updated on September 22, 2011

I've been a lifeguard for five years. That included hours of training in CPR and first aid. I feel pretty confident on the stand that I'd know how to help someone in an emergency, although thankfully I've never had to give CPR. The job has made me realize that everyone should learn CPR, because even the average layperson can help save a life.

Many people are hesitant when it comes to CPR. They may have taken a class at one point but worry that they would panic and forget all the steps if they were put to the test. So when an emergency arises, they might stand back and think, "I'd like to help, but I'm afraid I'd do it wrong." Others may fear getting slapped with a lawsuit if the victim is injured or dies. Still others are naturally squeamish when it comes to the mouth-to-mouth part, and they fear contracting some disease by giving CPR to a stranger.

Here are some basic facts about CPR that should help you lay aside some fears and misconceptions.


Why CPR?

CPR keeps a person's heart pumping until paramedics arrive. TV shows and movies make CPR look easy and miraculous. The hero does a few chest compressions, breathes into the hot girl's mouth a couple times, and presto! She's instantly back to life.

In real life, it rarely works that way. In most cases, the average person is not going to bring someone back through CPR. It usually takes professionals with advanced equipment. But until the ambulance shows up, when every second counts, CPR greatly improves a person's chances of survival.

How to give chest compressions

  • Make sure the victim is lying flat on his back on a firm surface (the floor, not a flight of stairs).
  • Imagine a line running between the person's nipples. Place one hand over the other on the center of this line, with your shoulders over your hands.
  • Press down fast and hard, about an inch to an inch and a half down. Be sure to let the chest rise fully between each compression.

Hands-only, mouth-free

Currently, less than a third of people who experience a heart attack get the immediate CPR that they require. That's why the American Heart Association (AHA) has started promoting a simplified version of CPR that will encourage more people to take immediate action when an adult stops breathing and loses his pulse.

The new hands-only CPR is just that: hands-only. You no longer have to remember the breath-to-compressions ratio or put your mouth over a stranger's. Just dial 911 and start steady, continuous chest compressions until help arrives.

How fast are the compressions supposed to be?

My lifeguard instructors told us during training to remember the song "Staying Alive" by the Bee Gees. Give chest compressions to the same beat. Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" works too--just don't sing it aloud while you're giving CPR. Bystanders will look at you like you're a monster!

Why does this work?

For adults who suddenly collapse from cardiac arrest, the simple act of compressing the heart circulates oxygen that is already present in the blood throughout the body. Keeping blood moving is enough to sustain life for several minutes. Pausing to give rescue breaths is not necessary, and actually holds up the circulation of oxygen-rich blood.

Two major studies showed that hands-only CPR was just as effective, if not more, than traditional CPR at saving lives and preventing brain damage (read the article for more details). Already 911 dispatchers are advising callers to start chest compressions right away.

Remember that hands-only CPR is for adults who collapse from a heart attack. For children and infants, drowning victims, and people who suffer from respiratory difficulties (such as asthma), use the traditional combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths.

Watch a demonstration

What are Good Samaritan laws?

Good Samaritan laws were created to protect regular people who respond to emergencies from being prosecuted for wrongful death or injury. Bystanders may be hesitant to assist someone in an emergency if they fear being sued or prosecuted should they make a mistake. Good Samaritan laws vary by region, but they generally protect people who act rationally and in good faith to help someone in trouble.

These laws do not typically apply to medical professionals (EMTs, doctors, etc.). As a lifeguard, for instance, I have a duty to act, and I'm expected to provide care as I have been trained.

The bottom line? Provide whatever care you can, within the scope of your training, without worrying about legal recriminations.

Above all, know that your actions can only help. Doing something is always better than standing back and doing nothing. Taking a refresher CPR course every year or two is always a good idea. Knowing what to do in an emergency situation can better the odds of someone surviving. That someone may be a stranger on the street or a loved one; it makes no difference. Do what you can to help save a life!


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    • Painted Seahorse profile image

      Brittany Rowland 6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      I'm glad you found it helpful, jj0466. Hopefully with the new version more people will remember what to do and not be afraid to step up in an emergency. Thanks for reading!

    • jj0466 profile image

      jj0466 6 years ago from Indiana

      very informative hub. I took a first aid class back in 2009 and around then we learned to do CPR with the breaths. This was an interesting read because I heard about the change but not as much about why it was changed.

    • Painted Seahorse profile image

      Brittany Rowland 6 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thanks, happyboomernurse! I've taken so many CPR classes over the years, but I like this new simplified version. It's just much easier to remember!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub on the new simplified CPR recommendations that the American Heart Association has started promoting. I think it will help more people feel confident and comfortable about giving CPR for all the reasons you've stated. Voted up and useful.