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What is CPR?

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s an emergency treatment used to restart a person’s heart and breathing if they stop (called a cardiopulmonary arrest). The aim is to keep the person alive while a correctable cause of the cardiopulmonary arrest is identified and treated.

CPR includes:

  • chest compressions (repeatedly pushing firmly on the chest)
  • inflating the lungs (by inserting a tube into the windpipe or by placing a mask over the mouth and nose)
  • defibrillation (using electric shocks to correct the heart’s rhythm)

What are the risks associated with CPR and how likely is it to work?

Many people’s idea of CPR is influenced by scenes on TV, where it’s almost always successful and people recover swiftly. However, in reality this isn’t always the case. While the heart isn’t beating properly the brain may not get enough blood supply and, even if the CPR is successful in getting the heart beating again, some brain damage may occur.

If CPR is given and it’s successful, your recovery will depend on a number of things, such as what caused it and how healthy you were when it happened. Following CPR a few people will make a full recovery, but some patients will still be very unwell and need more treatment, and some patients will never get back to the level of health they had before the arrest.

In many cases CPR isn’t successful at restarting a person’s heart and breathing. If you have a long-term or chronic condition or a terminal illness then it’s much less likely to work.

The methods used in CPR can have side effects such as bruising, cracked or broken ribs and/or punctured lungs.

Am I likely to have a cardiopulmonary arrest?

Cardiopulmonary arrests can happen unexpectedly, for example if you’ve suffered serious injury or a heart attack. They can also happen as part of the natural process of dying.

Only your healthcare team will be able to tell you how likely you are to have a cardiopulmonary arrest because everyone is different, and everyone responds to an illness or condition differently.