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Hands-Only CPR: What You Must Know to Save a Life

Did you know 70% of bystanders feel helpless to act when someone experiences a sudden cardiac arrest – often because they don’t know how to perform CPR or are afraid of harming the victim?

That’s a problem because more than 350,000 people in the U.S. experience a cardiac arrest each year and only 10% survive. However, bystander CPR can double or triple survival chances.

The good news is efforts are being made to boost the public’s competence and confidence with CPR – especially the hands-only version.

Let’s explore what it is, how to perform it, and who it helps most.

What is hands-only CPR?

During cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping blood, starving the brain and other vital organs of oxygen and nutrients. CPR is key to maintaining organ – especially brain – function. There are two main types of CPR: hands-only and CPR with breaths.

CPR with breaths, which includes mouth-to-mouth breathing, is the conventional type. However, for bystanders (non-healthcare professionals), the American Heart Association favors the hands-only approach when responding to most adult and teen cardiac arrest cases because it’s simple and effective.

The chest compressions provided during hands-only CPR mimic a pumping heart, pushing oxygenated blood though the body, which helps preserve the organs. Hands-only CPR is often effective in keeping a cardiac arrest victim in good enough shape until medical professionals can take over.

How do I perform hands-only CPR?

First, call 911. It’s key that emergency responders are on their way while you provide the first line of care to the victim. Put your phone on speaker mode so you can maintain communication with the 911 dispatcher.

Numerous courses – offered in person and online – provide training. Even this 30-second video can get you started. Do your best to provide chest compressions even if you lack training or don’t feel confident. A person in cardiac arrest has technically died, so attempting CPR beats doing nothing.

Follow these basic steps:  

1.  Make sure the victim is lying flat on their back and the immediate areas is clear of any potential hazards.

2.  Place the heel of your dominant hand at the center of the person’s chest. Place your other hand on top of your bottom hand and interlock your fingers.

3.  With your arms straight, push straight down hard and fast. Each compression should be at least two inches deep; count 100-120 compressions per minute. Here’s a helpful tip to keep pushing at the right rhythm: Many pop songs fall within 100-120 beats per minute. Fittingly, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees is among them. With one of these songs playing in your head, push along to the rhythm.

 Is hands-only CPR effective for all cardiac arrest victims?  

Performing hands-only CPR is better than doing nothing, regardless of the victim. However, it’s most effective on adults and teenagers. Children and infants typically need CPR with breaths.

Other persons who benefit from CPR with breaths include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Drowning victims
  • Drug overdose victims
  • Someone who’s collapsed due to breathing difficulties 

At Starting Hearts, we can provide you with specific training for making a life-saving difference. 

Contact us for more information:


Samantha Chapman is a registered nurse and healthcare writer from Ohio.