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How to Tell if Someone Needs CPR

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Cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR is an emergency procedure. It is performed in an effort to manually preserve intact brain function until further measures are taken to restore spontaneous blood circulation and breathing in a person who is in cardiac arrest. When it’s done properly, CPR is an excellent life-saving skill that has helped countless people survive and recover from an accident. The problem, though, is that many people don’t know when they should or should not perform CPR. This lack of knowledge can be incredibly harmful to someone who needs it.

We are going to rectify this and arm all of you with the information you need to be a hero. We’ll talk about the signs that a person may need CPR, how you can tell for yourself, and when you should or should not perform CPR.

Basic CPR Process

Basic CPR can be explained as C-A-B:

  • hard compression of the chest
  • tilting back the head to clear the airway
  • breathing, giving mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths

How can you tell if someone needs CPR?

It can be difficult to tell whether or not CPR is required in an emergency. This is completely understandable – adrenaline and fear cloud your judgment. If you learn to look for the signs that someone needs CPR, you can cut out the speculation and act as quickly as possible.

They are not Breathing

If the person is not breathing, it’s time to perform CPR to circulate oxygenated blood through the body. Without blood flow and oxygen, the heart stops beating and the brain starts dying. The average person can only go without oxygen for a total of six minutes before irreversible damage is done to the brain. If you start CPR within that time frame after cardiac arrest, there is hope that a person will survive without much brain damage.

They take occasional Gasping Breaths

When someone goes into cardiac arrest, they may continue to breathe for a while. If they start gasping for breath. CPR compressions should be started right away.

The heart has Stopped Beating

If you cannot feel a pulse, begin performing CPR. If the heart isn’t pumping, oxygen is not getting to the rest of the body. Chest compressions keep blood flowing to the heart and brain until emergency responders can take over and try other methods of resuscitation. 

The person is Unconscious/ Unresponsive

It is recommended that you begin CPR if the person is unconscious or unresponsive. If their condition becomes unstable because you don’t intervene, they may lose control of their breathing.

When should you start CPR or Compressions?

After determining that a person needs CPR, start immediately. The faster you jump into action, the higher their chances of survival. Delaying longer than is necessary may damage the brain or other organs, leading to more problems down the road.

Why might someone need CPR?

If you are having a hard time imagining when you would need to perform CPR, take a look at some of the following examples to prepare you in case you witness an accident in the future.

  • Electrocution
  • Near drowning
  • Car accidents
  • Sudden cardiac arrest
  • Sudden collapse

When should you not perform CPR?

When should you not perform CPR or compressions? You may want to immediately rush onto the scene to try and start CPR after witnessing a sudden cardiac arrest or injury but this is not always the best idea. You could end up putting yourself in danger and needing to be rescued yourself if you are not cautious.

The area is too dangerous

When conditions are hazardous, you may not be the best person in the situation to help. If someone is electrocuted, there may be downed power lines in the area and you could get electrocuted yourself. In the event of a car accident on a busy road, you could get hit trying to access the scene. This creates more chaos and can prove fatal. Make sure that the area is totally safe before going in to assist. If you can’t get to someone, you can still help by calling 084 124. Stay close until emergency rescuers arrive.

Something does not seem right

If you see a person lying down and they seem like they need help but you get a feeling that something isn’t quite right, your instincts could be correct in giving you pause. Criminals often prey on empathetic people by faking emergencies. This is especially used to target women as they are more likely to want to help. If you are by yourself, be wary. Call 084 124 first and seek the assistance of someone in the nearby area if you can.

The person is still breathing normally

If someone is breathing normally, you usually do not need to perform CPR. Oxygen is still getting to the brain and the heart is obviously functioning for the time being. In this case, call 084 124 and wait. Keep an eye on the person to note any changes and to start CPR if their condition worsens. Continue to check for a pulse and regular breaths.

When should you stop giving CPR?

Sometimes, the person who needed your help may not anymore. You were right to perform CPR but you also need to know when to stop before hurting someone. Stop if and when:

  • The person becomes responsive and their condition is stable again. If the person you are helping regains consciousness or begins to breathe normally on their own, stop giving CPR. It means that your efforts were a success!
  • The area becomes unsafe or unstable. What may have started out as a safe place to perform CPR may become dangerous. If a bad storm arrives, traffic gets dangerous, etc., you need to take care of yourself. You did everything you could but putting yourself in harm’s way isn’t going to help anyone.
  • Emergency personnel arrives. Once the professionals arrive and take over, hand off the resuscitation efforts to them. They likely know what they are doing better than you do and have access to equipment that you don’t; let them do their job.
  • An AED becomes available. “AED” stands for “Automated External Defibrillator.” It is sometimes a better option than CPR. If indicated, an AED should be used throughout resuscitation.
  • CPR is the first step in the chain of survival but it is physically demanding. If you have been performing CPR for a long time, you get exhausted. You don’t think as clearly, and you start to make mistakes. At that point, it is better to hand CPR off to someone else on the scene or stop.

In Summary

Knowing when and when not to perform CPR drastically increases the chances that you save someone’s life. If done properly, CPR can bring a person back from the brink of death and help them go on to live normal lives.

The Resuscitation Council of South Africa offers courses in CPR for members of the public, family members, relatives and friends of adults and children at risk for sudden death. It is ideal for laypersons with no prior medical knowledge who want to learn life saving rescue skills for their loved ones.



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