Hold that Breath: Compression-Only CPR Sometimes Better

According to Dr. Clifton Callaway, associate professor and vice-chair of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, CPR-trained bystanders and paramedics should not abandon the traditional CPR method. The suggestion for compressions alone should only stand until someone more experienced takes over.

"While a few minutes of chest compressions without ventilations can be tolerated and can support life, eventually the patient needs oxygen."

Not Enough People Give CPR, Experts Say

CPR is required when a victim is unresponsive and is not breathing. And although many movies feature actors always rushing to administer CPR -- sometimes to a complete stranger -- many experts say in reality, it's more likely that no one will come to your rescue.

CRP: Changing Guidelines, Saving Lives

Many studies suggest that bystanders are more willing to attempt resuscitation if mouth-to-mouth ventilations are not required.

"How many of us are willing to put our mouth on a total stranger," said Page. "I don't think there's significant risk on the operator, but there may be disincentive to do that and fear they'll do it wrong."

Sayre said many people may feel inexperienced and too afraid they may do something wrong.

"Part of the reason [many victims] don't get any form of CPR is because traditional CPR is fairly complicated," said Sayre.

According to Page, many people inexperienced with performing chest compressions might find the recommendation of 100 beats per minute -- or pumping the chest to the tune of Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive" – to be intimidating.

Callaway said that bystander CPR is more likely to be performed for victims who collapse in a public setting where the chances of someone who is trained in first aid might respond.

"The greatest barrier to bystander CPR is that many cardiac arrests happen in the home or in private settings where bystanders may not be trained in what to do," said Callaway. "As a result, bystander CPR is often not performed.

There are dozens of public videos demonstrating chest compressions that anyone can access on the internet that can show people the right place to put the heel of their hand, Page said.

"You go ahead, you do your best," said Page. "The statistics are that most people who undergo cardiac arrest don't survive, so even if you do CPR, they may not survive, but you're certainly improving the chances they do survive." And, recommending one repetitive may get more people to engage in CPR, rather than watching those precious seconds and minutes pass, Sayre said.

"We really could save thousands of lives across the country if we could just get more people to do something simple like push hard and fast on the center of the victim's chest," said Sayre.

For a schedule of CPR classes in your area, visit the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association.

For a cheat sheet on chest compressions and CPR, visit http://handsonlycpr.org

Disclosure: Dr. Richard Page co-authored the American Heart association's statement on compression only CPR. Page also previously co-authored editorials advocating chest compressions.

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