Hold that Breath: Compression-Only CPR Sometimes Better

Imagine for a moment, you and your friend are having dinner in a small restaurant and suddenly your friend stops breathing and collapses on the floor. You yell out for someone to call '911.' But then what?

Precious seconds, even minutes might be wasted while you're waiting for emergency medical services (EMS) to arrive. And for many it may mean the difference between life and death.

According to the American Heart Association, providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) – a combination of mouth-to-mouth breathing and chest compressions -- immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim's chance of survival. However, less than one-third of those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital receive CPR from a bystander.

"I think there's some fear of getting it wrong," said Dr. Richard Page, former president of the Heart Rhythm Society, and current chair of the Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin.

Two new studies published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that if you're not sure how to properly administer CPR, chest compressions alone may be as effective, if not more effective, than the traditional CPR which calls for both chest pumping and rescue breathing.

In both studies, bystanders followed instructions given over the phone by emergency medical dispatchers. In the first study, emergency dispatchers in Seattle and King County, WA. advised bystanders to give 981 patients chest compressions alone, and 960 were given chest compressions and rescue breathing. Researchers found approximately the same number of people in each group survived to reach the hospital.

VIDEO: A Simpler CPR: No More Mouth to Mouth
A Simpler CPR: No More Mouth to Mouth

The other study looked at 620 patients in Sweden who received just chest compressions and 656 patients who had standard CPR. The study found the same number of people in each group survived after one month.

Chest Pumping More Urgent than Rescue Breathing

Bystander CPR is designed to buy time until trained professionals arrive on the scene. Many experts said some inexperienced rescuers who try to perform mouth-to-mouth breathing may take valuable time away from urgently needed continuous chest compressions.

"If I'm laying here and we're waiting for the defibrillator to arrive, I don't need oxygen [right away], I need circulation of the air I have to my vital organs," said Page. "As you push hard and fast, you are moving air."

VIDEO: Ohio State Universitys Dr. Michael Sayre says simplifying CPR could save lives.
Ohio State University's Dr. Michael Sayre on CPR

Many people inexperienced in CPR interrupt each set of chest compressions for an average of 16 seconds while they deliver the recommended "2 quick breaths," according to a 2007 article published in "Circulation."

According to Dr. Michael Sayre, associate professor of emergency medicine at Ohio State University, rescue breathing is not appropriate in all first aid situations and may waste time especially if done by someone inexperienced in traditional CPR.

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