Hold that Breath: Compression-Only CPR Sometimes Better

Bystanders should stick to chest compressions, many experts say.

ByABC News
July 28, 2010, 4:17 PM

July 28, 2010— -- 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.

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.