What is CPR?

Cutaway diagram showing chest under CPR compressions
CPR compression, pressing straight down onto the chest to a depth of 5 cm or more on an adult

CPR is an acronym for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the essential procedure used to provide first aid to a person whose heart has stopped beating.

CPR is a proven game-changer in medical emergencies. Despite its effectiveness, the technique itself is relatively simple. It involves locating the compression area on the casualty's chest and administering compressions.

CPR target compression area

Chest compression is integral to CPR. Compressions imitate the pumping of the heart. In the same manner, compressions will get blood circulating and deliver oxygen to the brain, at least until definitive treatment can restart the heart.

By delivering oxygenated blood to the brain, CPR compressions increase the chances of keeping the person alive.

CPR is an immediate first aid response and is accompanied, where possible, by the use of an AED (automated external defibrillator). This would normally involve the first aider performing CPR without interruption, until an AED is found and retrieved by another person.

CPR and AED would be applied alternately and as directed by the AED.

CPR positions for adult, child & infant

AED Pad Positions

Rescue breaths

The CPR technique — as recommended by the Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC) and taught in first aid courses around Australia — traditionally involves 30 chest compressions interspersed by 2 breaths (mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths).

First aiders would aim to repeat this cycle until paramedics arrive to take over.

Rescue breaths are no longer a requirement, especially with COVID-19 infection concerns. However, rescue breaths will help provide oxygen and can be carried out safely by first aiders who have appropriate PPE in the form of face-shields.

Learning CPR

Learning CPR is best done by taking a CPR course with a Registered Training Organisation, such as those you’ll see here on the Australia Wide First Aid website.

Hollywood portrayals of CPR are invariably fictionalised, as are the sequences of actors up to their necks in water, thrashing around in near-drowning scenes.

To learn more about the reality of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, please see our article How to learn CPR.

Why You Should Learn CPR?

In oxygen-deprivation emergencies and cardiac arrests, CPR will buy time for the casualty until the medical professionals arrive.

Near-drowning, heart attack, and drug overdose are the more common instances of this type of emergency where the heart has stopped along with breathing. CPR helps avert tragedy by ensuring the patient receives life-giving oxygen until hospital treatment becomes available.

Situations like this are confronting. If you are at the scene, calling 000 is a must.

If you are trained in CPR, you can do more. You could take action and perhaps help save a life.

In a sudden cardiac arrest episode, the first 5 minutes are critical. CPR is of vital importance to give the person the best chance of survival. Those chances of survival diminish rapidly. Death can result in as little as 10 minutes.

Please see our article on Sudden Cardiac Arrest First Aid.

Sudden cardiac arrest statistics Australia

Other Resources



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