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Top 10 CPR Myths
Michele and I have been teaching CPR to healthcare professionals and students since 1984. We have seen CPR training grow, improve and become widely accepted over the years. Despite these advances, we still hear many myths about CPR every time we teach a class. As healthcare professionals and students, we must not allow outdated information, the public’s misconceptions and fears about CPR, or Hollywood’s unrealistic portrayal of CPR, to affect our duty to provide high-quality CPR to our patients and to the public. So to help dispel these myths, I’ve created this list of the most common CPR myths we hear most often from the healthcare professionals and students we teach every day.
Myth 1: CPR must include mouth-to-mouth breathing.
Wrong. Medical professionals or first responders will begin chest compressions immediately. Breathing should preferably be done by bag mask, mouth to mask or mouth to mouth with a barrier device. If you don’t know the patient and don’t feel comfortable putting your mouth to theirs or don’t have a CPR face mask, just do continuous chest compressions without breathing until emergency services arrive. The American Heart Association revised its recommendations and encouraged bystanders to use “hands-only” CPR as an alternative to exchange-breath CPR.
Myth 2: CPR always works.
Wrong. Unfortunately, this is not true, and it is a very common belief that has been perpetuated by Hollywood. The actual survival rate for adults from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is approximately 2% – 15%. Survival rates can increase by up to 30% if an AED is used to deliver a shock. However, if the victim’s heart stops and no one starts CPR immediately – then the victim’s chance of survival is nil.
Myth 3: I could be sued if I perform CPR the wrong way or make a mistake.
Wrong. We have not read of lawsuits being brought against lay rescuers or health professionals attempting to provide CPR. Generally speaking, our legal system provides nationwide Good Samaritan protections, exempting anyone who provides emergency CPR treatment in an effort to save someone’s life. This includes lay rescuers and health professionals. Lawsuits typically center around health clubs or similar institutions that have certified CPR employees who did not have or were using an AED at the time of the cardiac arrest. In general, as long as lay rescuers and health professionals do not hesitate too much from the standard CPR procedure, they will likely be protected.
Myth 4: We can become proficient in CPR with an online class.
Wrong. While it’s true that you can learn the steps of CPR from an online class, you likely won’t be able to perform high-quality CPR on a real patient after taking a computer-based CPR course. Practice, under the guidance of a certified instructor, is the key to developing muscle memory and proper techniques.
Myth 5: We can save a victim of sudden cardiac arrest with CPR alone.
Wrong. An AED/defibrillator can deliver shocks that will return the beating heart to its normal rhythm. CPR alone cannot revive a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. CPR can only delay death until a defibrillator delivers a life-saving shock.
Myth 6: A patient should cough while having a heart attack to prevent the heart attack from getting worse.
Wrong. This myth is what is known as ‘Cough CPR’. CPR was thought to speed up a very slow heart rate (bradycardia) and keep the patient awake until emergency services arrived. This is probably a misinterpretation of the vagal maneuver. The vagus maneuver is used to help a patient stimulate the vagus nerve to slow a fast heart rate.
Myth 7: Cardiac arrest is the same as a heart attack.
Wrong. They are different situations and are treated differently. Cardiac arrest is caused by an arrhythmia, dysrhythmia, irregular heartbeat, leading to cardiac arrest, where the heart does not move (asystole) or is in fibrillation (ventricular). A heart attack is a heart attack caused by a blocked coronary artery. Therefore, the term “cardiac arrest” is not synonymous with “heart attack”. A patient having a heart attack may experience chest pain, nausea, vomiting and become sweaty. However, a heart attack can eventually lead to cardiac arrest, depending on the severity of the blockage in the heart.
Myth 8: Someone more experienced than me should help the victim. So I shouldn’t help.
Wrong. The key to surviving cardiac arrest is the immediate response of someone trained in CPR. A patient who collapses and does not receive chest compressions immediately has little or no chance of survival. If you know how to properly perform chest compressions you should help immediately.
Myth 9: CPR can do more harm than good.
Wrong. When you do CPR, it’s on someone who doesn’t have a heartbeat. Proper chest compressions, to be effective, must be quick and very hard. It is true that you may break some of the victim’s ribs while performing CPR. Once a victim is revived, injuries can be treated. Damaged ribs are worth the risk and far better than letting the victim die without attempting CPR.
Myth 10: CPR will always restart the victim’s heart if they are in asystole.
Wrong. CPR alone will not always restart a non-beating heart. The purpose of giving CPR is to push oxygenated blood to the victim’s brain and other vital organs. Continuous high-quality CPR will reduce the number of the victim’s brain cells that will die without adequate blood flow. Medicines such as epinephrine and vasopressin may help return blood flow to the heart.
Kunz is currently certified by the American Heart Association as competent in BLS, CPR and AED since 1988. He is also an AHA certified BLS, CPR and AED instructor. He is also the co-founder and co-owner of a medical education company that provides AHA certification courses to healthcare professionals and students in the New York area.
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