March 31, 2008 -- When it comes to saving the life of someone whose heart has suddenly stopped, it may be best for bystanders to keep it simple and use chest compressions.
The American Heart Association is issuing a "call to action" for bystanders who are not trained in conventional CPR to use only their hands, without the rescue breathing, in the crucial moments after they witness an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart stops beating.
CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It's intended to keep blood moving in people whose hearts have stopped and help keep someone alive until an emergency medical team arrives.
Conventional CPR includes two parts. One part is mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, also known as the "breath of life." The second part is chest compressions, when you push down hard and fast on a person's chest, more than once a second, pressing down at least an inch and a half before releasing.
"Many times people nearby don't help because they're afraid that they will hurt the victim and aren't confident in what they're doing," says Michael Sayre, MD, chairman of the AHA's statement writing committee. Sayre is associate professor in the Ohio State University department of emergency medicine in Columbus.
Sayre says that by using what is called hands-only CPR, or chest compressions, "bystanders can still act to improve the odds of survival, whether they are trained in conventional CPR or not."
According to the AHA, more than 300,000 U.S. adults die annually from sudden cardiac arrest outside the hospital.
The AHA's 2005 recommendations urged bystanders to use compression-only CPR only if they were unable or unwilling to give rescue breaths. This update follows recent studies and the consensus of the AHA's Emergency Cardiovascular Care Committee.
These are the recommendations: If you are witness to a sudden collapse of an adult, call 911 and start chest compressions hard and fast in the middle of the chest.
If the bystander isn't trained in CPR or is not confident in being able to do rescue breaths, then they should only do hands-only CPR until emergency medical assistance arrives or an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available for use.