Overview of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), also called basic life support, is an emergency medical procedure performed to restore blood flow (circulation) and breathing. "Cardio-" refers to heart function and "pulmonary" refers to lung function. CPR is a combination of chest compressions and rescue breathing (i.e., mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or ventilation).

Serious injuries and medical conditions, such as severe respiratory infections, neurological and heart disorders, and others can cause a person to stop breathing (called respiratory arrest) and his or her heart to stop beating (called cardiac arrest). When the brain is without oxygen, permanent brain damage and death can occur in a matter of minutes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 300,000 people in the United States experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year.

The goal of cardiopulmonary resuscitation is to provide oxygen quickly to the brain, heart, lungs, and other organs until normal heart and lung function is restored. CPR can help prevent brain damage and death in a person who experiences cardiopulmonary arrest.

Type of injuries that may require CPR include the following:

  • Choking
  • Drowning
  • Electrocution
  • Motor vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle, and firearm accidents
  • Severe burns
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Suffocation

Although basic life support often is presented in steps, the procedure actually is a continuous series of assessments (e.g., Is the person in a safe area? Is the person breathing?) and interventions (e.g., call 911, perform chest compressions, clear the airway, begin rescue breathing).

Reading about CPR can provide a basic understanding of the procedure; however, it is important to take a CPR course to learn when and how to perform the procedure correctly.

In March 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the ResQCPR System—two devices that can be used by first responders while performing CPR on an adult who is in cardiac arrest. According to the FDA, these devices may help improve survival.

One device attaches to the patient's chest with suction and allows the first responder to provide compressions as well as decompressions—an improved method over standard CPR. Another device fits onto a breathing mask or tube and impedes airflow into the chest during decompressions, drawing more blood flow back to the heart. This may allow a greater volume of blood flow from the heart with the next compression—improving blood circulation.

In clinical trials, the ResQCPR System improved survival rates compared with standard CPR.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015