Hands-only CPR – Are you stayin’ alive?



Heart and Vascular Emergency Primary Care
Asian man performing CPR on man in park

If you see someone in cardiac arrest, do you know what to do?

Two simple steps can save a life. That’s it. Just two.

First, call 911 or send someone to do so. Then, begin performing hands-only CPR by pushing hard on the victim’s chest to the beat of the popular Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive.”

What is a cardiac arrest?

Unlike a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage that restricts the flow of blood to the heart, a cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating.

Another way to think about it is that a heart attack is a “plumbing” problem where you need to remove the blockage, and a cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem where the heart needs to begin beating again.

Cardiac arrest often occurs suddenly and without warning. An electrical problem in the heart happens which causes it to stop beating or to beat irregularly. Without a regular heartbeat, the heart is unable to pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. It only takes a few seconds for someone to lose consciousness after a cardiac arrest, and the person often dies within minutes if they do not receive lifesaving assistance right away.  

When you come across an adult who has collapsed and is not breathing, they have likely had a cardiac arrest. It is okay to step in by calling 911 and begin hands-only CPR.

Hands-only CPR: a lifesaving technique everyone should know

Every year more than 320,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital in the United States. 

“When someone suffers a cardiac arrest, their chance of survival decreases by 10% every minute CPR is delayed,” says James McCorry, M.D., an emergency medicine physician with Riverside Health System. “That’s why it is so essential that bystanders feel empowered to take action and perform hands-only CPR when it’s needed.”

You may have heard of, or even been trained in, traditional CPR, (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), which includes both chest compressions and assisted mouth-to-mouth breathing.

But, don’t let a lack of training in traditional CPR keep you from attempting hands-only CPR if you see someone in need. Studies have shown that hands-only CPR – where chest compressions are performed without stopping for breaths – can be just as effective at saving lives.

You never know when you might witness a teenager or adult experiencing a cardiac arrest – perhaps at work, while shopping or dining, or while out on a run. Having someone nearby who knows what to do can be the difference between life and death for someone having cardiac arrest outside of a hospital.

Learning the technique

“The first step is calling 911, and then start CPR,” says Dr. McCorry. “Hands-only CPR is a simple process that anyone can use to keep a patient alive until EMS personnel arrive on the scene.”

To learn hands-only CPR, no formal course is required. Visit the American Heart Association’s Hands Only CPR website or go directly to their Hands-Only CPR one minute instructional video.

Step 1: Call 911

Step 2: Lean directly over the victim and put the heel of your hand in the center of their chest. Put your other hand on top of the first. Push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest at 100 to 120 compressions per minute.

It may help to think of a popular song rhythm to help pace the timing of your compressions. In addition to “Stayin’ Alive,” you can also push to the beat of songs like “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira or “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash.

Continue chest compressions until medical help arrives or the person is breathing on their own.

“By performing hands-only CPR, you have the power to save a life,” says Dr. McCorry.

If you want to discuss your risk factors for heart and vascular disease, talk to your cardiologist or your primary care provider. To see a Riverside primary care provider call 757-534-5352 to make an appointment or ask how to be seen safely through a secure video visit. Or, to make an appointment with a Riverside cardiologist, please call the location nearest you.

  • Riverside Cardiology Specialists- Riverside Regional Medical Center 757-594-2074
  • Riverside Cardiology Specialists- Port Warwick 757-873-0360
  • Riverside Cardiology Specialists- Hampton 757-827-7754
  • Riverside Cardiology Specialists- Williamsburg 757-259-9540
  • Riverside Cardiology Specialists- Gloucester 804-694-5553
  • Riverside Eastern Shore Physicians and Surgeons Cardiology – Onancock 757-302-2700

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