Adult CPR: How to Give CPR to an Adult

Last updated:
May 25, 2023

How to Give CPR to an Adult Victim

  1. Assess the Situation
  2. Check for Breathing and Pulse
  3. Call for Help (911)
  4. Begin Chest Compressions
  5. Provide Rescue Breaths
  6. Continue the Cycle of Chest Compression and Rescue Breathing
  7. Use an AED if available
  8. Monitor the Victim's Condition

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving technique that is crucial in emergency situations, particularly when an adult experiences cardiac arrest. CPR involves a series of actions performed to maintain blood circulation and provide oxygen to the body's vital organs until professional medical help arrives. In this article, we will explore the basics of adult CPR, including its definition, performing adult CPR steps, the technique, important considerations, and tips to maximize the chances of saving a life.


What is Adult CPR?

Adult CPR refers to the resuscitation technique performed on individuals who are over the age of puberty and have experienced cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening condition in which the heart's normal electrical activity becomes disrupted, leading to a sudden cessation of its pumping function. Without prompt intervention, cardiac arrest can result in brain damage or even death within a matter of minutes.

Adult CPR is vital because it helps to maintain blood circulation and oxygen supply to the brain and other vital organs, delaying the onset of irreversible damage. By performing CPR until advanced medical assistance arrives, bystanders can significantly increase the chances of survival for the individual experiencing cardiac arrest.


What are the differences between Adult CPR and Pediatric CPR?

The main difference between adult CPR and pediatric CPR lies in the size and structure of their chests. Adults have larger and deeper chests compared to children, which can affect the effectiveness of the CPR technique. In child CPR, it is crucial to adapt the technique to provide appropriate and effective chest compressions.

Adults have larger and deeper chests compared to children. This is because adults have fully developed bodies, while children are smaller and less muscular. These differences in chest size and structure can make providing chest compressions more challenging when performing CPR on children.


How do These Differences Impact the Technique for Chest Compressions?

The technique for chest compressions in adult CPR and pediatric CPR differs primarily in the number of compressions and the force of each compression.

  • For Adult CPR, you should place both your hands on the center of the chest and compress the chest at least 2 to 2.4 inches or 5 cm. You should provide 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute, followed by two rescue breaths.
  • For Child CPR, you may use either one or two hands for chest compressions and place it on the lower half of the sternum. A compression depth of about 2 inches is recommended, with a compression rate of 100 to 120 per minute.
  • In Infant CPR, you should use two fingers for chest compressions, which should be delivered at a rate of 120 compressions per minute.

 Here's a table summarizing the key differences between Adult, Child, and Infant CPR:

a table summarizing the key differences between Adult, Child, and Infant CPR

Key Difference between Adult, Child and Infant CPR
Adult CPR
Child CPR
Infant CPR
Age Range
Puberty and older
1 year to puberty
0 to 1 year
Compression Technique
Two hands on the lower half of the sterunm
One or two hands on the lower half of the sternum
Two fingers or two thumbs on the sternum
Compression Depth
Atleast 2-2.4 inches (5 cm)
About 2 inches (5 cm)
About 1.5 inches (4 cm)
Compression Rate
100-120 compression per minute
100-120 compression per minute
120 compression per minute
Same as adult CPR
Child-specific pads or pediatric settings
Child-specific pads or pediatric settings
Hands Placement
Lower half of the sternum between the nipples
Two fingers or two thumbs on the sternum
Two fingers or two thumbs on the sternum

How to Perform Adult CPR?

Performing Adult CPR promptly and correctly is crucial in saving the life of an adult in cardiac arrest. Here is a step-by-step guide to performing adult CPR:


Step 1: Assess the Situation

  • Ensure your safety and the safety of others around you. Look out for any potential hazards before approaching the person in need.
  • Check if the person is responsive by tapping their shoulders and asking loudly, "Are you okay?" If there is no response, proceed to the next steps.


Within what timeframe should Adult CPR be initiated after a person loses consciousness?

Adult CPR should be initiated immediately after a person loses consciousness. Time is of the essence in cardiac arrest situations, and the sooner CPR is started, the better the chances of a positive outcome. For every minute that passes without CPR, the person's chances of survival decrease by about 7-10%. Therefore, it is crucial to begin CPR as soon as possible while waiting for professional medical help to arrive.


Step 2: Check for Breathing and Pulse

  • Determine if the person is breathing normally by looking, listening, and feeling for any signs of breath.
  • Check for a pulse by locating the carotid artery on the side of the neck and feeling for a pulse for no more than 10 seconds. If there is no breathing or pulse, the person requires CPR.


Which adult victim requires high quality CPR?

Any adult victim who is unresponsive, not breathing normally, or experiencing cardiac arrest requires high-quality CPR. High-quality CPR refers to the proper administration of chest compressions and rescue breaths following the recommended guidelines and techniques.


Step 3: Call for Help

Dial 911 immediately to request professional medical assistance. If there are other people around, assign someone to call for help while you begin Adult CPR. This ensures that help is on the way as soon as possible.

chest compression

Step 4: Begin Chest Compressions

  • Position the adult victim properly by placing them on their back on a firm surface.
  • Kneel beside the victim's chest.
  • Place the heel of one hand on the center of the victim's chest and the other hand on top of the first hand, interlocking your fingers.
  • With straight arms, position your shoulders directly above your hands and keep your elbows locked.
  • Begin chest compressions by pushing hard and fast, aiming for a compression depth of at least 2-2.4 inches (5 centimeters).
  • Allow the chest to fully recoil between each compression without lifting your hands off the chest.


At what rate should chest compressions be performed in Adult CPR?

In Adult CPR, chest compressions should be performed at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. This rate ensures sufficient blood circulation and oxygen delivery to vital organs, such as the brain and heart.

To ensure the correct rate, it can be helpful to associate it with a familiar tune or song that has a similar rhythm. For instance, the classic song "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees has a beat of around 100 to 120 beats per minute, which aligns closely with the recommended compression rate for Adult CPR. Mentally synchronizing the compressions to the beat of a song can help maintain the appropriate pace.

How does the force of chest compressions spread across the chest in Adult CPR?

During adult CPR, the force of chest compressions is applied to the chest, specifically the sternum and ribcage. This force spreads across the chest and compresses the heart between the sternum and the spine. The goal is to generate enough pressure to mimic the heart's pumping action and facilitate blood circulation to vital organs. It is important to apply firm and deep compressions without excessive force to prevent injury. Proper hand placement and technique ensure that the force is evenly distributed across the chest for effective chest compressions.

adult cpr rescue breathing

Step 5: Provide Rescue Breaths

After performing chest compressions in adult CPR, you should provide rescue breaths to deliver oxygen to the person's lungs. Here's how you can provide rescue breaths:

  • Ensure the adult victim is still lying on their back on a firm surface.
  • Maintain an open airway by tilting their head back gently and lifting their chin. This helps to keep the airway clear and facilitates proper airflow.
  • Create a seal over the mouth and nose by pinching the person's nose shut using your thumb and forefinger. This prevents air from escaping through the nostrils.
  • Take a normal breath and place your mouth over the person's mouth, creating a tight seal.
  • Deliver a breath that lasts about one second. You should see the person's chest rise as you provide the breath.
  • Remove your mouth from the person's mouth and observe for the chest to fall naturally.


What is the ratio of chest compressions to breaths when providing Adult CPR?

The ratio of compressions to breaths when performing adult CPR is 30:2. This means for every cycle of CPR, you should perform 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths. The compressions help circulate oxygenated blood to the vital organs, while the rescue breaths deliver fresh oxygen to the lungs.


Step 6: Continue the Cycle

After providing the rescue breaths, you should return to chest compressions by placing your hands on the center of the person's chest and continuing with the CPR cycle. An adult CPR cycle includes 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths. Maintain this 30:2 ratio until professional medical help arrives or the person shows signs of life.

Remember, it is important to deliver effective rescue breaths while minimizing interruptions in chest compressions to maximize the chances of successful resuscitation.


About how many cycles of CPR should you perform for an adult in 2 minutes?

In general, it is recommended to perform approximately 5 cycles of Adult CPR in 2 minutes. Each cycle consists of 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths. The chest compressions and rescue breathing should be delivered continuously and without interruption, maintaining a steady rhythm and pace.


When performing 2 rescuer CPR on an adult victim, how often should a switch take place?

When performing two-rescuer Adult CPR, it is recommended to switch the roles of the rescuers approximately every 2 minutes or every 5 cycles of CPR. This allows for both rescuers to maintain effectiveness and prevent fatigue, ensuring that high-quality CPR is consistently provided.

During the switch, the new rescuer takes over the role of providing chest compressions while the previous rescuer transitions to deliver rescue breaths. It is important to ensure a smooth and seamless transition to avoid any interruption in the delivery of Adult CPR.


Can Adult CPR be effective without rescue breaths?

Yes, adult CPR can still be effective without rescue breaths. Hands-only CPR, which consists of chest compressions without rescue breaths, can be a valuable alternative in certain situations. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends hands-only CPR for untrained rescuers or individuals who are unwilling or unable to provide rescue breaths.

During hands-only CPR, the focus is solely on providing chest compressions to maintain blood circulation. By pressing down on the chest, you help to pump oxygenated blood to vital organs, including the brain and heart. This can buy valuable time until professional medical help arrives.


Step 7: Use an AED

An AED, or Automated External Defibrillator, is a portable electronic device used to deliver an electric shock to the heart in cases of cardiac arrest. If an AED is available, use it immediately.

  • Turn on the AED: Power on the device, and it will provide audio or visual prompts to guide you through the process.
  • Attach the pads: Remove the person's clothing from their chest and ensure the chest is dry. Attach the AED pads to the person's bare chest as indicated by the diagrams on the pads. One pad goes on the upper right chest, and the other pad goes on the lower left side.
  • Analyze the heart rhythm: Once the pads are securely attached, the AED will analyze the person's heart rhythm. Ensure that no one is touching the person during this analysis.
  • Follow AED prompts: The AED will provide voice instructions or visual prompts on the screen. It may advise you to stand clear while it delivers a shock or instructs you to continue CPR if a shock is not needed.
  • Deliver the shock (if advised): If the AED determines that a shock is needed, it will prompt you to press the shock button. Ensure that no one is touching the person when the shock is delivered and follow the AED's instructions precisely.
  • Resume CPR: After delivering the shock, the AED will instruct you to resume CPR. Immediately continue with chest compressions and follow the AED's prompts for the appropriate timing.


Step 8: Monitor the Victim's Condition

Continuously monitoring the person's condition during Adult CPR is essential to assess their responsiveness and determine the effectiveness of your efforts. Here's what you need to do:

  • Assess breathing and pulse: Regularly check for signs of normal breathing and the presence of a pulse. Look, listen, and feel for breathing, and feel for a pulse in a major artery, such as the carotid artery in the neck.
  • Adjust the procedure if necessary: If the person shows signs of normal breathing and a pulse returns, it may indicate that they no longer require CPR. Monitor their condition closely and be prepared to administer CPR again if their condition deteriorates.
  • Communicate with medical professionals: Once professional medical help arrives, provide them with an update on the person's condition and actions taken.


When to seek medical attention after performing adult CPR?

After performing adult CPR, it is important to seek medical attention, even if the person shows signs of improvement. Seeking medical help is necessary to assess the underlying cause of cardiac arrest and ensure proper medical care. Immediate medical attention should be sought if the person does not regain consciousness, if there is uncertainty about their condition, if there is a recurrence of cardiac arrest, or if there are any complications during or after CPR.

What should be the rescuer's primary focus during the administration of Adult CPR?

During the administration of Adult CPR, the rescuer's primary focus should be on providing high-quality chest compressions. Chest compressions are the foundation of CPR and play a vital role in maintaining blood circulation and delivering oxygen to the person's vital organs, including the brain and heart.

High-quality chest compressions involve the following key elements:

  • Compression depth: The rescuer should aim to compress the chest at least 2-2.4 inches (5 centimeters) deep. This depth allows for sufficient blood flow to the heart and brain.
  • Compression rate: The recommended compression rate is between 100 and 120 compressions per minute. This pace ensures an adequate circulation of blood throughout the body.
  • Chest recoil: After each compression, the chest should be allowed to fully recoil. This allows the heart to refill with blood, enhancing the effectiveness of subsequent compressions.
  • Minimizing interruptions: Interruptions in chest compressions should be kept to a minimum. Prolonged interruptions can reduce the overall effectiveness of CPR. Only pause compressions briefly when transitioning to rescue breathing or when using an AED.

While rescue breathing and the use of an AED are important components of adult CPR, the rescuer's primary focus should be on delivering high-quality chest compressions. By maintaining the correct compression depth, rate, allowing for chest recoil, and minimizing interruptions, the rescuer can optimize blood circulation and increase the chances of successful resuscitation.


By what signs can you tell if Adult CPR is being effective?

Here are several signs that can indicate if Adult CPR is being effective:

  • Chest rise: When performing rescue breaths, you should observe for visible chest rise with each breath. This indicates that air is entering the person's lungs and that the breaths are being delivered effectively.
  • Color improvement: If the person's skin color, particularly the lips and face, begins to regain its normal color, it can be an indication that oxygenation is improving. The skin may transition from pale or bluish to a more normal, pinkish color.
  • Return of normal breathing: As CPR is being administered, you may notice a return of normal or spontaneous breathing. The person may begin to breathe on their own, taking regular breaths without gasping or struggling.
  • Signs of consciousness: In some cases, the person may regain consciousness or show signs of responsiveness. They may start to move, open their eyes, or respond to verbal commands.
  • Return of a pulse: If you are able to feel a pulse in a major artery, such as the carotid artery in the neck, it indicates that blood circulation has been restored. A pulse is a strong indicator of successful resuscitation.

It's important to note that these signs may not always be present, and the absence of these signs does not necessarily mean CPR is ineffective. CPR should be continued until professional medical help arrives or until the person shows obvious signs of recovery.


Under what circumstances might the standard Adult CPR technique need to be modified?

The standard Adult CPR technique may need to be modified under certain circumstances. It's important to adapt CPR based on the specific situation to ensure the best possible care. Here are some circumstances that may require modifications to the standard CPR technique for an adult:

  • Suspected drowning or water-related incidents: If the person experienced a submersion event, it is crucial to remove excess water from the airway before initiating CPR. This can be done by tilting the head back and lifting the chin to open the airway, followed by rescue breathing.
  • Pregnant: When performing CPR on a pregnant, the technique should be adjusted to accommodate the growing uterus. To ensure effective compressions, the hands should be placed slightly higher on the chest, between the nipples, to avoid compressing the uterus.
  • Chest trauma or injury: In cases where there is suspected chest trauma or injury, such as from a car accident or a fall, you should be cautious and gentle when applying chest compressions to minimize further harm. If possible, medical professionals should be consulted or present to guide resuscitation efforts.
  • Advanced age or frailty: For elderly individuals or those who are frail, modifications to the force and depth of chest compressions may be necessary. Care should be taken to avoid excessive pressure or causing injury to the ribs.
  • Professional rescuers or healthcare providers present: If trained healthcare providers or professional rescuers are available, they may employ more advanced techniques and equipment, such as advanced airway management, medication administration, or cardiac monitoring, as part of their CPR approach.
adult cpr choking

How does Adult CPR differ from an unresponsive adult choking victim?

Adult CPR differs in an unresponsive adult choking victim because the main focus shifts to relieving the obstruction in the airway caused by the choking. Here's how CPR differs in an unresponsive adult choking victim:

  1. Assessment: Check the victim's responsiveness. If they are unresponsive and not breathing or only gasping, it indicates a blocked airway.
  2. Call for Help: Immediately call for emergency medical services (EMS) or ask someone nearby to call while you assist the victim.
  3. Chest Compressions: Begin CPR by positioning the victim on their back on a firm surface. Instead of starting with rescue breaths, start with chest compressions. Place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest (between the nipples) and the other hand on top. Perform chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. The compressions should be deep enough to dislodge the object causing the choking.
  4. Check for Obstruction: After 30 chest compressions, open the victim's mouth and check for any visible obstructions. If you see an object, try to remove it with your fingers, but avoid blindly performing a finger sweep.
  5. Ventilation: If the chest compressions don't relieve the obstruction, give two rescue breaths. Tilt the victim's head back slightly and lift their chin to open the airway. Pinch the victim's nose closed and make a complete seal over their mouth with yours. Give two slow breaths, each lasting about one second, and watch for the chest to rise.
  6. Continue Cycles: Continue cycles of 30 chest compressions followed by attempts to remove the obstruction and two rescue breaths until the object is expelled, medical help arrives, or the victim starts breathing spontaneously.

It's crucial to continuously reassess the victim's response and adjust the technique accordingly. If at any point the victim becomes responsive, starts breathing, or coughs forcefully, stop CPR and monitor their condition. If the victim becomes completely unresponsive, resume CPR. Remember, the priority is to clear the airway obstruction and provide oxygen to the victim.


What are the Equipment and Supplies Needed for Adult CPR?

The essential equipment and supplies needed for adult CPR include AEDs, barrier devices, such as face shields or pocket masks, and gloves to prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens and other harmful contaminants. Proper maintenance and inspection of this equipment are crucial to ensure that it is always ready for use. When selecting equipment, consider your needs and budget to ensure that you are prepared for any emergency.

What are the Common Mistakes to Avoid During Adult CPR?

During Adult CPR, it is crucial to perform the technique correctly to maximize its effectiveness and minimize potential errors. Here are some common mistakes to avoid during Adult CPR:

  1. Failure to Assess the Situation: One common mistake is not assessing the situation properly before initiating Adult CPR. It is essential to ensure the scene is safe and determine if the person is unresponsive and not breathing or only gasping. Assessing the situation helps you make informed decisions and provide appropriate care.
  2. Inadequate Chest Compressions: Insufficient depth or rate of chest compressions can greatly reduce the effectiveness of Adult CPR. Avoid shallow compressions and ensure a depth of at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) for adults. Compressions should be performed at a rate of at least 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
  3. Interruptions in Chest Compressions: Consistency is key during Adult CPR. Avoid unnecessary interruptions in chest compressions, as pauses can decrease the blood flow and oxygenation to vital organs. Minimize interruptions during switchovers in two-rescuer CPR and when transitioning to rescue breaths.
  4. Insufficient Recoil: After each chest compression, allow for full chest recoil. Failing to let the chest return to its normal position between compressions can impede blood flow and decrease the effectiveness of Adult CPR. Ensure that pressure is released fully during the upward phase of the chest compression.
  5. Ineffective Rescue Breaths: When providing rescue breaths, ensure proper technique. Create a proper seal over the person's mouth and nose and deliver breaths that cause visible chest rise. Avoid excessive force that can lead to gastric inflation.
  6. Neglecting to Use an AED: If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, it should be used as soon as possible in conjunction with Adult CPR. Neglecting to use an AED when available can delay potentially life-saving treatment.
  7. Fatigue and Poor Rescuer Technique: Adult CPR can be physically demanding, leading to fatigue. Rescuers should take turns or switch positions to prevent fatigue, which can compromise the quality of Adult CPR. Maintaining good form and technique is crucial for effective chest compressions and rescue breaths.
  8. Failure to Reassess the Person's Condition: It is important to reassess the person's condition while performing Adult CPR continually. Look for signs of responsiveness, normal breathing, or changes in their condition. Adjust the procedure if necessary based on the person's response or the arrival of professional medical help.

By avoiding these common mistakes and ensuring proper training and practice, you can provide high-quality CPR and improve the chances of a positive outcome for the person in need of assistance.


Risks and Complications Associated with Adult CPR

While Adult CPR is a life-saving technique, it is essential to be aware of the potential risks and complications that can arise during its administration. Although these risks are relatively rare, understanding them can help rescuers make informed decisions and take necessary precautions. Here are some potential risks and complications associated with Adult CPR:


  • Rib Fractures: The force applied during chest compressions can occasionally result in rib fractures, especially in older adults or individuals with brittle bones. While this can be a potential complication, the immediate need to restore blood circulation and oxygenation outweigh the risk of rib fractures.
  • Damage to Internal Organs: In rare cases, the force exerted during chest compressions may cause damage to internal organs. This risk is minimized by following the recommended technique and hand placement during compressions.
  • Lung Injuries: Over-inflation of the lungs or excessive force during rescue breaths can lead to lung injuries, such as pneumothorax (collapsed lung) or aspiration (entry of fluids or objects into the lungs). Proper training and technique are crucial to minimize these risks.
  • Vomiting and Aspiration: When providing rescue breaths, there is a small risk of the person vomiting. If this occurs, there is a potential risk of aspiration, where vomit or fluids enter the airway and lungs. Turning the person's head to the side or quickly clearing the airway can help mitigate this risk.
  • Transmission of Infections: While the risk is very low, there is a possibility of transmitting infections from the person receiving CPR to the rescuer or vice versa. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and using barrier devices can help reduce this risk.

It's important to note that despite these potential risks, the benefits of timely and effective CPR in saving lives far outweigh the potential complications. The goal of Adult CPR is to provide immediate assistance and increase the chances of survival until professional medical help arrives.

Proper training, regular certification renewal, and adherence to recommended guidelines and techniques can minimize the risks and complications associated with Adult CPR. It is crucial to weigh the potential risks against the urgency of the situation and take prompt action to provide life-saving care.

Why Everyone Should Learn Adult CPR

Learning adult CPR is crucial for everyone as it can have a life-saving impact in emergency situations. By being prepared and equipped with the knowledge and skills to perform CPR, individuals can step in and provide vital assistance until professional help arrives. Learning adult CPR not only enables you to save lives but also raises public health awareness and creates a network of potential responders within communities. It empowers individuals, boosts confidence, and provides valuable life skills that can be applied in various settings. By taking the initiative to learn adult CPR, you contribute to a safer and more resilient community.

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