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ACLS vs. BLS – What’s the Difference?

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Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Basic Life Support (BLS) are techniques used to help save lives during cardiac arrest. With proper training, these techniques are effective primary responses to cardiac emergencies

Despite what many may think, ACLS vs. BLS is very different depending on the training and techniques that are needed to save the lives of patients. If you are a nurse, babysitter, athletic coach, teacher, lifeguard, or someone else who is professionally responsible for the safety of others, it is especially important for you to know the difference between ACLS vs. BLS, and you will likely need certification in one or both of them.

What Is BLS?

Basic Life Support includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) training. BLS also teaches participants how to clear obstructed airways (choking relief). It is the most basic form of life-saving care given by first-responders, healthcare professionals, and public safety professionals. 

BLS teaches practitioners to safely assess the scenario and read a victim’s vitals. Furthermore, participants learn how to determine which treatment is best and how to perform each treatment until more advanced care becomes available (or more experienced responders arrive on the scene). 

BLS is commonly taught to lifeguards, teachers, and nurses, and it is usually the first step before receiving ACLS training. 

The BLS certification involves:

  • CPR for adults, children, and infants
  • The AHA Chain of Survival
  • Proper AED use
  • Giving ventilations using a barrier device, such as a bag valve mask
  • Performing life-saving support as a team
  • Foreign-body airway obstruction relief for adults and infants (choking relief)
ACLS vs. BLS CPR training

What Is ACLS?

Advanced Cardiac Life Support incorporates the same life support skills as BLS. However, it builds upon those skills to better prepare healthcare professionals who might direct other healthcare professionals or participate in managing cardiovascular emergencies.

ACLS teaches participants how to recognize the early warning signs of respiratory and cardiac arrest in an individual. This includes peri-arrest conditions.

Related pharmacology is also provided as an additional tool for first responders, as well as how to manage ACS and stroke.

Healthcare professionals who might get an ACLS certification include EMTs, police officers, firefighters, and doctors. The certification course teaches:

  • Proficient BLS administration
  • Recognizing and managing respiratory arrest
  • Recognizing and managing cardiac arrest
  • Post-cardiac arrest care
  • ACLS pharmacology
  • Airway management
  • ECG reading
  • Intravenous care

ACLS vs. BLS – Understanding the Difference Between Them

The primary difference between ACLS vs. BLS is that ACLS requires more advanced knowledge and expertise than BLS to perform correctly. Some BLS training is usually required to receive ACLS training. The ACLS certification then builds upon the foundational skills taught in BLS.

ACLS vs. BLS – Certification

The BLS certification primarily teaches life-saving techniques performed outside a hospital setting. The types of professions most likely to seek or require a BLS certification are non-medical professionals. 

Professions that manage large groups and are responsible for their safety, such as lifeguards, teachers, babysitters, and coaches, would be more inclined to get a BLS certification.

The ACLS certification is designed for medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and EMTs. 

Requirement of Medical Background

Medical expertise is not required to take the BLS certification. Some prior knowledge is helpful, but the course is designed to teach basic life support skills to anyone, regardless of their professional background.

On the other hand, the ACLS certification requires participants to receive their BLS certification before taking the ACLS exam. If not, they must have some other basic medical training to take the course.

Requirement of Tools & Resources

ACLS training builds upon BLS. The training teaches ECG reading, administering medication during an emergency, administering IVs, and more specific expertise to better prepare the individual to handle emergencies. 

This knowledge is not included in BLS, as these skills require a higher degree of medical expertise to perform effectively.

(Both certifications involve the use of AEDs.)


When it comes to ACLS vs. BLS, both are effective life-saving techniques taught to different segments of the population. 

BLS teaches foundational knowledge. It is for anyone who wants to prepare in case an emergency arises. BLS can be a viable option for people to train themselves to handle life-threatening situations and help save lives outside of hospital settings.

ACLS involves more advanced knowledge for medical professionals to utilize. Medical professionals working in an environment where cardiac arrest is a higher possibility are required to take ACLS training.


Who Requires ACLS?

An ACLS certification is required for anyone in the medical profession working in high-risk environments, like EMTs or emergency room personnel. This certification ensures trainees are prepared to face life-threatening situations and act in a manner that is in the victim’s best interest.

Other people working in environments where cardiac emergencies are more likely to happen might be required to get certified as well. For example, nursing home personnel might be recommended or required to get ACLS certified, depending on their employer.

How Long Does the ACLS Certification Last?

Upon completion of the training course, participants receive a course completion card valid for two years. After which time the individual needs to retake the course to remain certified.

This information can mean the difference between life or death for a victim, and best practices can change over the years. It is prudent to require a relatively frequent re-certification to keep everyone on the same page and up to date.

Is ATLS the Same as ACLS?

ATLS and ACLS are not the same. ATLS stands for Advanced Trauma Life Support. It teaches medical professionals how to treat life-threatening and limb-threatening injuries. 

Although both are designed for medical professionals, ATLS is directed towards helping trauma victims as quickly as possible. This helps to save the individual’s life and prevent or minimize any long-term effects.

How Long Does it Take to Get an ACLS Certification?

Multiple providers offer the ACLS certification. Therefore, the time it takes to get certified differs depending on the provider.

The ACLS certification can take as little as one to two hours if the participant is knowledgeable or up to ten hours if the participant is new to the material. The certification often includes an instructor-led portion and an online exam.

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