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Picture this: A friend or family member grabs their chest, collapses right in front of you, gasps a few times and then lies deathly still. Would you know what to do?
Of course, you would call 911 — most know to do that. But far too many folks then simply wait for help to arrive, says Benjamin S. Abella, M.D., a professor in emergency medicine and director of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine Center for Resuscitation Science.
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Instead, your next step should be starting chest compressions — yes, even if it’s been decades since you took a CPR class (or even if you’ve never been trained at all).
Doing CPR immediately after cardiac arrest can double or triple someone’s chance of survival, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). “If you wait the 10 minutes for the ambulance to show up, it may be too late,” Abella says.
The good news is that CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is a lot easier than it used to be.
CPR has only been around since the 1960s. But the AHA has made constant tweaks and changes over the years based upon the latest research and data. Probably the biggest change came in 2008 when the association began recommending that untrained bystanders skip mouth-to-mouth ventilation and only do high-quality chest compressions — known as hands-only CPR — when an adult collapses.
“The old way was too complex,” says Bentley J. Bobrow, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UTHealth Houston McGovern Medical School, who helped write the new guidelines. “When people are panicking, it’s hard to remember anything. We tried to make CPR as easy as possible in the hope that more people will be able and willing to do it.”