CPR on an adult
(St John, NZ, 2016)
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Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving skill that can be used if someone isn't breathing or if their heart has stopped. CPR is a skill anyone can learn. It involves chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth (rescue breathing) to help keep blood and oxygen flowing through the body. Without CPR, it takes only a few minutes for the brain to be damaged due to lack of oxygen.
You should start CPR if a person:
If they're unconscious, try to wake them. If they're breathing regularly and normally, you don't need to start CPR but do call 111 for help. If their breathing changes and they are having difficulty breathing or stop breathing, then start doing CPR.
Only approach the collapsed person if you think it’s safe to do so. Check for any immediate dangers such as traffic, or electrical hazards like downed power lines.
If it’s safe to proceed, check to see if they’re responsive by giving a simple command or question such as “Can you hear me?”, “What’s your name?” or “Can you squeeze my hand?”, then grasp and squeeze their shoulders firmly. Moving or making a noise counts as a response.
Someone who’s taken an excessive amount of drugs or alcohol may react aggressively or unexpectedly. If you’re unsure of your safety, avoid being too close while you check to see if they're breathing.
If they don’t respond to your voice or touch, then they are unconscious and in danger of dying because of their airway becoming blocked.
Call an ambulance by phoning 111 or ask someone else to call. It’s important to call 111 as soon as possible so that medical help is on its way. You will be keeping the person alive with CPR, but they need additional care to start their heart.
When a person is unconscious their muscles relax, including their tongue. This is dangerous because the tongue can flop downwards against the back of the airway and block it, meaning they can’t breathe.
When the airway is open and clear, check for normal breathing.
If the person is breathing, move them and support them on their side with their head tilted back and monitor their breathing.
Note: These CPR guidelines are based on NZ and Australian standards and are taken from the St John website. Other countries may follow different guidelines with regards to mask wearing and mouth-to-mouth contact.
Put the person on their back, kneel beside them, then do the following:
Don't give up – keep going until help arrives, or until they are revived (regain consciousness and start breathing on their own).
If you have someone to help you, one person can do the chest compressions while the other person breathes into the person’s mouth. If you can't breathe into the person’s mouth or are uncomfortable doing it, just perform chest compressions.
If an AED (automated external defibrillator) is available, attach it to the person ASAP and follow the directions.
Using an automated external defibrillator (AED) can also save someone’s life. If they receive treatment from an AED, along with CPR, before the ambulance arrives their chance of surviving is much greater.
If there is an AED available, attach it to the person as soon as you can and follow the directions. The AED will guide you with voice prompts to use it safely.
Read more about AEDs and an app showing where AEDs are located in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Items such as handkerchiefs, tissues and tea towels don’t provide any useful protection from transmission of disease and complicate the process of performing CPR.
Commercially available face masks or face shields and other similar barrier devices may provide some protection from transmission of disease. However, bear in mind the following:
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Reviewed by: Healthy editorial team.
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