December 24, 2013 | by

How CPR Can Save a Life

Image by Margaret RiegelMillions of people have been trained in CPR in recent decades, yet when people who aren’t in hospitals collapse from a sudden cardiac arrest, relatively few bystanders attempt resuscitation. Only one-fourth to one-third of those who might be helped by CPR receive it before paramedics arrive.

With so many people trained, why isn’t bystander CPR done more often?

For one thing, people forget what to do: the panic that may ensue is not conducive to accurate recall. Even those with medical training often can’t remember the steps just a few months after learning them. Rather than make a mistake, some bystanders simply do nothing beyond calling 911, even though emergency dispatchers often tell callers how to perform CPR.

Then there is the yuck factor: performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a stranger. So pervasive is the feeling of reluctance that researchers decided to study whether rescue breathing is really necessary.

Two major studies, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in July 2010, clearly demonstrated that chest compressions alone were as good or even better than combining them with rescue breathing. In both studies, one conducted in Washington State and London and the other in Sweden, a slightly higher percentage of people who received only bystander chest compressions survived to be discharged from the hospital with good brain function.

When a person collapses suddenly because the heart’s electrical function goes awry, it turned out, there is often enough air in the lungs to sustain heart and brain function for a few minutes, as long as blood is pumped continuously to those vital organs. In addition, some people gasp while in cardiac arrest, which can bring more oxygen into the lungs. Indeed, the studies strongly suggested that interrupting chest compressions to administer rescue breaths actually diminishes the effectiveness of CPR in these patients.

Read the full article by Jane Brody at The New York Times.