Frequently Asked Questions

What does CPR stand for?

The letters CPR stand for cardio pulmonary resuscitation. The term embraces all the procedures, from basic first aid to the most advanced medical interventions that can be used to restore the breathing and circulation in someone whose heart and breathing have stopped.

For lay people and first aiders, CPR refers to the basic first aid procedures that can be used to keep someone alive until the emergency medical services can get to the scene. The most important skills are chest compressions to pump blood around the body, and rescue breaths to provide oxygen. Rescue breaths are also known as the 'kiss of life'.

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest means that the heart has stopped pumping blood around the body. This may occur for many reasons, but loss of the electrical coordination that controls the normal heartbeat is usually responsible.
The most likely cause is ventricular fibrillation, in which the normal orderly electrical signal that controls the heartbeat becomes completely disorganised and chaotic, and the heart is unable to act as a pump.

Ventricular fibrillation can be treated with a defibrillator that delivers a high energy shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.

What is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

Although 'heart attack' is often used to refer to a sudden cardiac arrest, this is incorrect. A heart attack (or myocardial infarction to use the medical term) occurs when an artery supplying the heart with blood becomes blocked. This usually causes chest pain and leads to damage to some of the muscle of the heart. 

A heart attack may cause a cardiac arrest, particularly in the early stages, but this is not inevitable. A cardiac arrest is when a person's heart stops pumping blood around their body and their breathing stops.

How effective is CPR?

If bystanders who witness a cardiac arrest perform CPR, sufficient blood containing oxygen will reach the brain, heart and other organs to keep the person alive for several minutes. CPR by itself will not restart the heart, but it ‘buys time’ for the emergency medical services to reach the scene. Effective CPR more than doubles the chance of someone surviving a cardiac arrest.

Is compression-only CPR effective?

Compression-only CPR describes the performance of uninterrupted chest compressions without rescue breathing. In many adults who suffer a cardiac arrest, the heart stops abruptly; breathing will have been normal (or nearly normal) so the blood should be well oxygenated. In this situation compression-only CPR may be effective for the first few minutes after the heart stops. This may provide time for the emergency services to arrive or an AED to be collected. Ultimately the oxygen will be used up and rescue breaths are required to give the victim the best chance of resuscitation. Where cardiac arrest is caused by lack of oxygen (as in drowning and most arrests that occur in children) compression-only CPR will be much less effective. Chest compression alternating with rescue breaths is the ideal first aid procedure, but for untrained bystanders or those unwilling to give rescue breaths, compression-only CPR  (hands only) is a useful alternative.

What are the signs of cardiac arrest?

The key features of cardiac arrest are someone who is unconscious, unresponsive, and NOT BREATHING NORMALLY - Noisy, infrequent, or gasping breaths is not normal breathing. If you have any doubt whether someone is breathing normally or not, assume it is NOT normal: call 999 immediately and start CPR.

What is the Chain of Survival?

The Chain of Survival describes a sequence of steps that together maximize the chance of survival following cardiac arrest.

  • The first link in the chain is the immediate recognition of cardiac arrest and calling for help.
  • The second is the prompt initiation of CPR.
  • The third is performing defibrillation as soon as possible.
  • The fourth is optimal post resuscitation care.

Like any chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link, so if one stage is weak the chances of successful resuscitation are compromised.

What is a semi-automatic defibrillator?

Semi-automatic defibrillators will request the rescuer to press a button to deliver the shock. This leaves the treatment in the hands of the rescuer.

What is the difference between an automatic and semi-automatic defibrillator?

A fully-automatic AED will automatically deliver the shock to the patient. Due to its automation, safety procedures will need to be followed to ensure no other surrounding bodies will receive the shock. A semi-automatic AED will require rescuer input to deliver the shock.

How do you use a semi-automatic defibrillator?

A semi-automatic defibrillator will require slightly more input from a rescuer compared to a fully-automatic defibrillator. The rescuer will need to, firstly, turn on the device. Secondly, the rescuer will need to apply the pads on the patient as the instructions show. Thirdly, the semi-automatic defibrillator will analyse the patient’s heart and come to a conclusion regarding the strength of the shock needed. Finally, the rescuer will get confirmation from the device in which the rescuer will need to manually press the shock button when safe to do so.

What happens after a cardiac arrest?

When the heart is restarted after a cardiac arrest, recovery is not immediate. Admission to hospital is always required for further treatment and investigation to establish the cause. Provided good CPR has been performed while the heart has stopped and defibrillation has been carried out promptly, the outlook is very good with most patients making an excellent recovery.

How many people survive a cardiac arrest?

In the UK fewer than 10% of all the people survive, where a resuscitation attempt was made outside the hospital. Improving this figure is a major priority for the RC (UK), the Department of Health, ambulance services and voluntary aid organisations.

When all the stages in the Chain of Survival take place promptly, the figures are much better. This is possible where the arrest is recognised immediately, bystanders perform CPR, and an automated defibrillator is used before the ambulance service arrive. Survival rates more than 70% have been reported under these circumstances.

Could someone be sued for doing CPR?

It is very unlikely that someone in the UK who acted in good faith when trying to help another person would be held legally liable for an adverse outcome. No such action has ever been brought against someone who performed CPR and, in general, the courts in the UK look favourably on those who go to the assistance of others.

The Resuscitation Council (UK) has published detailed guidance on the legal status of those who attempt resuscitation. This provides answers to most of the commonly asked questions on the subject.

How can I be trained in CPR?

Training in CPR is provided by many organisations including Defib! Some classes also include instruction in the use of an AED. Many kinds of training are provided, ranging from ‘hands-on’ classes with training manikins to purely internet-based distance-learning instruction. It is recommended that AED and CPR training should include practice on a training manikin.

Is CPR done the same way in adults and children?

The core principles of CPR – ventilation to provide breathing and chest compressions to support the circulation – apply equally to children and adults.

Many children do not receive CPR because potential rescuers are not sure if there are specific methods recommended for children and are afraid of causing harm. This fear is unfounded: it is far better to use the adult CPR sequence for resuscitation of a child than to do nothing. When performing chest compressions, compress the child’s chest by 1/3 to 1/2 of its depth – don’t be afraid to push hard.

Although slightly different techniques are taught to those people (particularly healthcare workers) who have special responsibilities for the care of children, the differences are not crucial and it is far more important to do something using the techniques you have been taught. 

How do I help someone choking?

Both adults and children may be victims of choking. The first essential is to recognise what is happening. The context may provide important clues.  For example, choking is common at mealtimes, or child may have been playing with small objects.

The victim may go silent and hold or point to their throat. If the obstruction to the airway is only partial, the victim may be able to speak, cough and breathe. Encourage them to cough and clear the obstruction but keep a close eye to make certain that the situation does not get worse.

If the airway is severely obstructed, the victim will not be able to talk, but may be able to respond by nodding or shaking their head. Coughing will be ineffective, breathing will be difficult, noisy or, at worst, impossible. Without treatment the victim will ultimately lose consciousness.

Severe airways obstruction is treated by measures that aim to increase the pressure inside the chest and thereby expel the obstruction.

How common is cardiac arrest in children?

Fortunately, out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) in childhood is a rare event. Studies of OHCA in children and adolescents (excluding infants under one year old) report an incidence between 3 and 9 per 100,000 per year. The rates reported in infants are generally much higher (between 11 and 72 per 100,000 infants per year). The cause in this latter group is often attributed to the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Do you need specific training for a semi-automatic defibrillator?

Anyone is able to use a defibrillator, that includes both a semi-automatic AED and a fully-automatic AED, no training needed. In both cases, the rescuer will need to ensure they follow the instructions included with a defibrillator carefully. Please click here to see the defibrillator training and first aid training we offer.

How do I store a defibrillator?

There are many ways to store a defibrillator, ensuring its kept safe and easily accessible. Correctly storing your AED keeps it from being damaged or lost. We offer many ways of storing your defibrillator. Options can be found here. We also offer appropriate signage to make sure everyone can easily find the device when it is needed.

Do I need to replace defibrillator pads after every use of the defibrillator?

After using the device, the pads themselves will need replacing. Defibrillator pads are designed as a single-use item, like many other forms of medical equipment. After each use of the AED, it is also worth checking the battery is at a high level for seamless use next time it is required.