Why breaths in CPR make a difference

 The British Heart Foundation has just launched another Hands-only CPR Video aimed at school children – this time with ‘Little Vinnie’. This video again highlights how to do really effective chest compressions and is for people who have never received life support training to empower them to do something rather than nothing if someone has a cardiac arrest in front of them. The BHF reckon that they have saved at least 28 lives since their initial campaign in January in this way.

How many people know how to recognise if someone was having a Heart Attack and how to help? Recognising the early signs is often even more important than knowing what to do once they are unconscious and not breathing.

The emphasis of the British Heart Foundation is on chest compressions as these are much simpler to teach than the breathing and people are also more willing to push on someone’s chest than get very close and breathe into them.

When giving breaths, use a face shield

Why you still need to give breaths

If an adult has a Cardiac Arrest they still have residual oxygenated blood in their system and this can sustain them for 3 or 4 minutes whilst someone is pushing on their chest to pump that blood round their body. After this time, or after about 30 compressions, they will start to run out of oxygenated blood.  The advice from the British Resuscitation Council, Red Cross, St John and the British Heart Foundation remains –  breathing for the casualty, combined with good compressions, is the most effective form of CPR and gives them the best chance.

Children do not have the ability to retain oxygen in their system and thus for children it is advised that you start with 5 rescue breaths – tilting the head to take the back of the tongue off the back of the throat and breathing into them to make their chest rise. This should then be followed by 30 chest compressions, pushing down on the chest by about a third and pushing hard and fast – just like the advert. Get an ambulance on the way and then continue: 2 breaths: 30 compressions….

When you are pushing on the chest, you are being the heart for them, doing cardiac massage. Research has shown that it takes 13 compressions to get sufficient pressure to be pumping the blood round your system – this is why the emphasis on the compressions is so important. However research has also shown that after 30 compressions we start to run out of oxygenated blood and our organs cannot survive without enough oxygen. This is why we are advised to give someone the best chance we should combine 30 compressions with 2 breaths.

In areas where school children are taught CPR, such as the US city of Seattle, or Stavanger in Norway, 52% of people who undergo a shockable cardiac arrest in front of witnesses will survive. Whereas in the UK it is nearer 6%.

Coming on a course and learning the practical skills on a mannequin is the best way to fully understand and be confident as to how to give someone the very best chance if they collapse. We will also show you how to use a defibrillator AED.

 Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit firstaidforlife.org.uk for more information about our courses.

First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.


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