How does CPR save lives?

Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
According to the AHA about 300,000 people a year have sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). This is an electrical malfunction that causes the heart to beat chaotically or suddenly stop beating. Often these victims have no prior history of cardiac problems. Therefore it is different than a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage in an artery that then leads to dying heart muscle. However, large heart attacks can also cause sudden cardiac arrest.  The majority of cases of SCA occur outside the hospital, with the grim statistics that only 8% of victims survive. This may be attributable to the fact that less than one-third of these victims receive bystander CPR, which can more than double your chances for survival.
Sudies have shown that so-called hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) increases the likelihood of survival in comparison to the A-B-C approach. “Compressions help to circulate warm and oxygenated blood through the body sooner, which is critically important,” says Wally Ghurabi, D.O., medical director of the Emergency Department at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

Dr. Ghurabi says the chest compressions are too often not fast enough, deep enough or long enough. They should be done to a depth of at least two inches for adults, allowing the chest to recoil after each one (i.e., don’t lean on the chest), and one and a half inches for infants and two inches for children, and at a rate of at least 100 per minute until the arrival of emergency personnel.

Only about 8 percent of those who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive with their brain function intact, Wally Ghurabi, D.O., medical director of the Emergency Department at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, notes, but when proper CPR techniques are performed, that rate is substantially higher.

“People need to understand that in these situations, the battle is won and lost in the field,” Dr. Ghurabi says. “By shifting the focus to circulating blood as long as possible in that critical time period, we can save many lives.”

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.