CPR: Chest Compressions Alone Can Preserve Brain Function

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CPR’s mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions have saved countless lives, but the chest pumps alone may be just as effective during medical emergencies.

A Japanese study found that people who used hands-only, or compression-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on people in cardiac arrest saved more lives and preserved brain function compared to those using the compressions combined with resuscitative breaths.

In the study, published in the journal Circulation, researchers reviewed the records of 1,376 people in Japan who experienced sudden cardiac arrest and then received CPR along with shocks from an automated external defibrillator (AED) from bystanders. Among the patients, about 37% received compression-only CPR and about 64% received full CPR with both compressions and ventilating breaths.

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Among those who survived the emergency, more than 46% of those who received compression-only CPR were alive one month later compared to 39.9% of those who received standard CPR. Those who experienced compression-only CPR were also 40.7% more likely to show favorable brain function, as measured on a five-scale cerebral performance evaluation, compared to 32.9% among conventional CPR recipients.

Standard CPR requires alternating ventilating breaths with chest compressions in a carefully timed sequence, and the technique is intimidating for many who might want to help a person in distress but are too afraid of doing more harm. “Rescue breathing is difficult for some people to perform and might interrupt chest compressions,” said lead study author Dr. Taku Iwami, senior lecturer in the Department of Preventive Services at Kyoto University School of Public Health in Japan, in a statement. “Most victims don’t receive any CPR, so we need to encourage chest-compression-only CPR and public access defibrillation programs.”

(MORE: New CPR Rules: Pump First, and Save the Breaths for Later)

While there is growing evidence that compression-only CPR can save more lives, this study is one of the first to document that it also helps to maintain brain function. Recognizing the mounting studies showing the benefits of compression alone, in 2010 the American Heart Association (AHA) officially changed the order of CPR to start with chest compressions, citing the fact that many bystanders view CPR as too complex. Simply providing chest pumps , even by those who are not trained in conventional CPR, can keep a person’s heart continuously beating and keep blood and oxygen circulating to the heart and brain.

(MORE: 9-1-1 Operators Could Save More Lives By Coaching Callers in CPR)

“Across the United States, too many people are dying from sudden cardiac arrest because family members and friends of the victim are unsure how to help. This study confirms that Hands-Only CPR is highly effective. Plus it’s easy to do,” said Dr. Michael Sayre, a national spokesperson for the AHA and professor of emergency medicine at the University of Washington, in a statement. As data on the benefits of chest compression-CPR continues to mount, Sayre and other experts hope that more people will feel comfortable performing CPR when they see someone in cardiac arrest, which might lead to increased survival from these heart emergencies.