Emergency Resuscitation (CPR)

Emergency resuscitation is a life-saving emergency procedure that involves breathing for the victim and applying external chest compression to make the heart pump. It is also known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Elroy's Story

Jason's father, Elroy, is a 42-year-old man who owns his own auto repair business. He has been in business for 16 years and has 12 employees, including mechanics and support staff, many of whom have been with him for more than 10 years. Elroy's business has many long-term and repeat customers. He tries to be a good employer, providing health benefits and a retirement plan that employees can buy into. Recent legislative changes have made him change how he provides health insurance and retirement benefits for his employees. Changes in the economy have also affected the way he does business. Elroy is married with three children, and the oldest will be starting college next year. He has been under heavy stress trying to manage his business and his family. As Elroy sits in his office, he starts to feel dizzy, with chest pain that goes to his left shoulder, neck, and jaw. He calls out to his secretary, who enters the office and finds him slumped over his desk. His secretary yells, “Elroy! Are you okay?” Elroy does not respond; he has no pulse and is not breathing. The secretary calls out to one of the mechanics to call 9-1-1 as she starts emergency resuscitation.

What Is Emergency Resuscitation?

Emergency resuscitation is the implementation of emergency measures when a person stops breathing or when a person's heart stops beating. There are two types of emergency resuscitation: cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED). When people perform CPR, they breathe for the person who has stopped breathing, and they perform chest compressions to stimulate a heartbeat to pump oxygenated blood to the body's organs and tissues. An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that can be used to deliver an electrical shock to the heart through the chest wall. The shock can stop an irregular heartbeat or rhythm and convert it to a normal heartbeat or rhythm.

When Should Emergency Resuscitation Be Performed?

Emergency resuscitation is performed when a person's breathing has stopped (respiratory arrest) or heartbeat has stopped (cardiac arrest). Respiratory or cardiac arrest may occur in someone who is having a heart attack; drowned; experienced an electrical shock or smoke inhalation from a fire; had a severe allergic reaction; or overdosed on drugs. Respirations should be started as soon as someone trained in CPR determines that breathing has stopped. Similarly, chest compressions should be started as soon as a trained person determines that the heartbeat has stopped.

CPR Terms

Cardio means heart and is evaluated by counting the number of heartbeats per minute.

Pulmonary refers to the lungs and is evaluated by checking to see that the person's airway is open, and by counting the number of breaths (respirations) per minute.

Resuscitation means to revive or restore.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation means to restore a person's heartbeat and breathing.

Respiratory arrest means that the person has stopped breathing.

Cardiac arrest means that the person's heart has stopped beating.

Who Can Perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation?

Anyone can learn to perform CPR; there is no minimum age requirement. Children as young as nine years old have learned and successfully performed CPR. As long as a person has the physical ability to administer respirations and to perform chest compressions, he or she can learn CPR. Teachers, babysitters, people who work in children's daycare centers, sports coaches, lifeguards, firefighters, and security guards learn CPR. Many people learn CPR as part of their job requirements or to be better prepared in case an emergency occurs. Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, dentists, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians, are required to be certified in CPR.

Who Can Use an Automated External Defibrillator?

Usually, people working in areas where they have contact with large numbers of people learn to use an AED, including police officers, fire personnel, security guards, airline attendants, sports coaches, and so on. Firefighters and police officers often have AEDs in their vehicles. AEDs can also be found in many public places, including airports, airplanes, shopping malls, schools, churches, and department stores.

How Is Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Performed?

The following is a summary of the steps of CPR. The reader should note that the information provided here does not take the place of a certified course in CPR.

  1. Check for unresponsiveness. Shake the person gently to determine whether he or she moves or makes a noise. Shout, “Are you OK? Are you OK?”
  2. If there is no response, call and yell for help. Get the AED if there is one available nearby. If there are two people available, one should call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number while the other begins CPR. If you are alone, call 9-1-1 then begin CPR.
  3. To start CPR, carefully place the person on his or her back. If one suspects that the person has a back or spinal cord injury, two people should move the person.
  4. Perform chest compressions.
  5. Open the airway to ensure that there is no obstruction to air entering the respiratory passages.
  6. Look (at the chest); listen (for sounds of breathing); and feel (for the rise and fall of the chest) for breathing.
  7. If the person is not breathing or has trouble breathing, perform rescue breathing.
  8. Continue CPR (chest compressions and rescue breathing) until help arrives.

If the person starts breathing again, place him or her in a comfortable position and monitor the person until help arrives.

Where Can a Person Learn to Do Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation?

Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Red Cross (ARC) provide courses in CPR. Several courses in CPR serve the needs of different learners. “Family & Friends CPR,” an AHA course, provides basic CPR training and is helpful for anyone who is not a health professional. Some people are required to take a CPR course for their employment. The best course for these people is the “Heartsaver CPR AED” course (an AHA course). People who work with children can take the “Pediatric First Aid CPR AED” course, which provides specific information on performing CPR or using an AED on children. Emergency medical technicians, police officers, and other first responders are required to complete the “Basic Life Support for Prehospital Providers” course offered by the AHA. Courses are offered in small-group sessions as well as online.

There are many places where a person can learn to perform CPR. The ARC and the AHA have created standardized CPR classes. AHA courses are available online. Many hospitals, schools, fire stations, and community cen ters sponsor CPR classes for residents of the community. People can check the Internet for a CPR class located in their community or call the local fire department and hospital community education department to determine whether a CPR class is offered nearby.

Take a Course

These organizations offer courses on emergency resuscitation as of June 3, 2016.

See also Drowning • Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction) • Substance Abuse • Toxic Inhalation Injuries


Books and Articles

Thygerson, Alton L., and Steven M. Thygerson. First Aid, CPR, and AED, Standard. 7th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2017.


American Heart Association. “2015 American Heart Association Guidelines for CPR and ECC.” https://eccguidelines.heart.org/index.php/circulation/cpr-ecc-guidelines-2/ (accessed March 24, 2016).

American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. “CPR & First Aid: Frequently Asked Questions.” http://heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@ecc/documents/downloadable/ucm_469674.pdf (accessed March 24, 2016).

MedlinePlus. “CPR—Adult and Child 9 Years and Older.” National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000013.htm (accessed March 24, 2016).


American Heart Association. 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75231. Toll-free: 800-242-8721. Website: www.heart.org (accessed March 24, 2016).

American Red Cross. 2025 E St., NW, Washington, DC 20006. Toll-free: 800-733-2767. Website: www.redcross.org (accessed March 24, 2016).

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)