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Is the CPR I learned 10 years ago good enough to save a life?


Updated January 24, 2014

Question: Is the CPR I learned 10 years ago good enough to save a life?

My kids took health in high school and came home questioning the teacher's outdated CPR standards. When I talked to him on the phone, he didn't really understand why the "rules" for CPR had changed. "Come on," he said, "isn't the CPR I learned good enough?"

Answer: Sort of. It's better than nothing.

First, I don't want to discourage anyone from trying to help when a victim stops breathing. One thing is for certain: If you do nothing, a cardiac arrest victim will die.

How effective your help is depends on what you do for the victim. CPR doesn't look the same as it did 10 years ago, and it likely won't look the same next decade as it does now. CPR guidelines change, and that's a good thing.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) refers to trying to get the heart and lungs working properly after they've malfunctioned. We're always looking for ways of doing that a little better. When I was just starting in the emergency medical biz, CPR was all about airway and breathing. Chest compressions were important, but breathing was considered paramount.

Today, the focus is changing. It's all about keeping your hands on the chest as much as possible. Keep pushing, hard and fast.

Rescue breathing is still a part of CPR, but 10 years ago the ratio of compressions to breaths was 15:2 (5:1 if two rescuers worked together). We now know that's not enough, and since 2005, the ratio has been 30 compressions and 2 breaths. Medical leaders in some areas of the country are advocating against giving breaths at all for adults who suddenly collapse. They even have a new name: CCR or Cardiocerebral Resuscitation.

When I was growing up, CCR stood for a really good rock band with a decidedly southern flair. Now, it's a lifesaving technique. Go figure.

One more example of how things are always changing.

Let's face it, if you do the CPR you learned during the Clinton administration, it won't be as effective as CPR by someone who learned it this year. If you're lucky, CPR will be the most important skill you never have to use. But, when you don't use it, you lose it.

Any skill you don't use will deteriorate over time. That's just a simple fact that isn't special to CPR. So even if you try to do your ancient CPR, you'll probably do it wrong anyway. If you haven't taken a CPR class in more than 2 years, it's a good idea to get an update, and practice pumping and blowing.

Find the right CPR class for you and make your weekend about saving lives. Until then, remember it's all about pushing on the chest. Watch our video on Hands Only CPR (not as a replacement for taking a class -- just as a filler until you get around to it).

Push hard. Push fast.


Related Video
How to Perform Hands-Only CPR
How to Do the Heimlich Maneuver
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