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Real CPR Isn't Everything It Seems to Be

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"CPR is the only thing that a lot of people are capable of doing in an emergency situation," says Sarah Gillen, a vice president of Emergency Skills Inc., a corporate safety training group based in New York City. "We may expect it is going to do amazing things, and if everything goes well, it could. If you do nothing this person won't survive, if you do something they have a chance," she says.

And Gillen adds that in spite of the fact that outcomes of CPR are often wrongly portrayed on TV, the techniques shown are about right.

Still, nothing is better than hands-on training. Gillen tells WebMD that anyone can learn CPR through a training program. "A training course where you can practice is invaluable in an actual emergency," she says.

So what is the best way to respond to an emergency?

  • If someone has collapsed and is unresponsive, call 911 immediately.
  • Then CPR should be administered when someone's breathing or pulse stops, Gillen says.

The American Heart Association currently recommends the ABCs of CPR -- Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.

  • Airway: If a person is unconscious, check the airway by gently tilting the head back with one hand and lifting the chin with the other. Check for breathing. If the person is breathing, roll him onto his side and wait for help to arrive.
  • Breathing: If the victim is not breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Keeping the victim's head back and chin up, pinch the nose. Form an air-tight seal with your mouth on the victim's mouth and give two slow breaths.
  • Circulation: Begin chest compressions. Depress the lower half of the sternum straight down about two inches. Then completely relax the pressure on the sternum, letting the chest rise to its normal position between compressions. Perform 15 chest compressions followed by two slow breaths. Complete this cycle four times, for about a minute. Then check for a pulse and see if the person is breathing. Continue until help arrives, or if the person has a pulse and starts breathing, rotate them onto their side into what's called a recovery position.

The best way to know what you're doing is to take a CPR class. Doing CPR when you're not sure of the procedure can be dangerous to the patient. For information on taking a CPR training class, contact the AHA toll-free at 1-877-AHA-4CPR

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