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Hands-Only CPR: What It Is & How To Perform It

what to do before giving cpr

Imagine being out enjoying a day at the mall when you suddenly hear someone scream. You turn to see a person collapsed on the ground, not moving. People have begun to gather around. Some are even filming the scene on their cell phones. Nobody appears to be taking action while they wait for paramedics to arrive. Later, you find out that the collapsed person was suffering from an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) emergency. What could you have done to help?

According to the American Heart Association, more than 356,000 people experienced OHCA in the U.S. in 2015. Nearly 90% of these incidents were fatal. Despite the fact that victims who receive bystander CPR are 2.5-3 times more likely to survive, the numbers reflecting CPR from bystanders for OCHA victims in the US still lag significantly. Only 18% of Americans have current CPR training and just 65% have had CPR training at some point in their life. And bystanders only initiated CPR in 39.2% of OHCA cases in the U.S. in 2015.

Are you CPR certified? To save more lives, more people need to be trained in how to perform hands-only CPR, a relatively simple technique that any bystander can learn to do without having a medical background. 

What is Hands-Only CPR?

The AHA says hands-only CPR is “as effective in the first few minutes as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, at work or in public.” Hands-only CPR refers to continuous chest compressions without rescue breaths. Some rescuers aren’t willing or able to deliver rescue breaths, but they can still jump in and help by providing hands-only CPR, which will still greatly improve the victim’s chance of survival.

Hands-only CPR involves pushing hard and fast on the center of the victim’s chest. The purpose of hands-only CPR is to get blood pumping through the victim’s body until paramedics arrive on the scene and perform more advanced life support.

Jason Grady, System Manager for Emergency Cardiac Care at Northside Hospital in Georgia, speaks about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or rescue breathing, and how hands-only CPR can be sufficient

The AHA still recommends CPR with both compressions and rescue breaths for infants and children experiencing OHCA, as well as victims of drowning, drug overdose, or people who collapse due to breathing problems.

Why is Hands-Only CPR Important?

  • You can double or triple a person’s chances of survival from SCA by immediately performing CPR.
  • Hands-only CPR requires less energy than conventional CPR, since you are not delivering rescue breaths. That means you can give the victim life-saving compressions for longer. 
  • Hands-Only CPR keeps blood flowing to a person’s brain after their heart stops beating. The AHA emphasizes chest compressions over rescue breaths because minimizing interruptions to compressions is a key part of delivering high-quality CPR, and the circulation of oxygen to vital organs is more important than delivering more oxygen to the victim. 
  • Early CPR is a key link in the chain of survival for victims of OCHA.
hands-only CPR

Benefits of Hands-Only CPR

  • Hands-only CPR, even if it’s not performed perfectly, greatly increases a person’s chances of survival.
  • Hands-only CPR is faster and easier to learn than traditional CPR.
  • Hands-only CPR is a pandemic-safe way for bystanders to help save a life.

If you come across someone unconscious and not breathing normally, what can you do to help? Don’t let fear prevent you from saving a life! Take action in the moment. You need to CALL-PUSH-SHOCKThis means that you must immediately call 911, begin hands-Only CPR, and use an AED to restart their heart.

What to do Before Giving CPR

  • Make sure the scene is safe for you and the victim.
  • Check breathing and responsiveness. If there is no breathing, or only unusual gasping, and the person is not responsive, the person requires CPR.
  • Call 911! If you are alone, find a phone and call. If someone is with you, tell them to call 911 while you begin CPR. You can also call from your cell phone on speakerphone as you begin compressions.
what to do before giving cpr

How to Perform Hands-Only CPR

  • Push! Start compressions. The recommended compression rate for high-quality CPR is between 100 and 120 compressions per minute. Rates above or below this range reduce the chances of survival of the victim. A person performing CPR should compress an adult or teenaged victim’s chest to at least two inches, but no more than 2.4 inches. For prepubescent children and babies, the compression depth should be 1.5 inches (4 cm) in infants. 
how to perform hands-only CPR
  • After initiating CPR, the next thing you need to do is administer a shock. When an AED arrives, deliver a shock if needed.
  • Continue CPR until prehospital providers arrive.

Learn more about the differences between adult, child, and infant CPR.


Early CPR is critical. In the absence of bystander intervention, and with EMS arrival often taking over 5 minutes, virtually all SCA victims could die without bystander CPR and defibrillation.

Remember, everyday people can do extraordinary things! The person’s life could depend upon your willingness to assist. Try to remain calm and take action. If you do, you could save a life.

Trained people feel more confident to intervene when they witness a medical emergency. Empower yourself with CPR and AED training!


Is Hands-Only CPR better than Traditional CPR

Hands-only CPR is faster and easier to learn than traditional CPR. It’s also less exhausting and less intimidating for people who may be hesitant to provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Bystanders should do compression-only CPR if they are unable, untrained, or unwilling to provide rescue breaths. According to the AHA, if you see an adult suddenly collapse you should—at a minimum—call 911 and provide high-quality chest compressions by pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest at 100-120 compressions per minute, minimizing interruptions.

How Long do You Perform Hands-Only CPR on a Victim?

You should continue providing hands-only CPR until prehospital providers arrive or the person wakes up. To avoid becoming exhausted, try to have someone else step in to perform chest compressions in order for you to take a break.

*All information on the Avive website is provided in good faith. However, Avive makes no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, validity, or completeness of any information on the Site. Any medical/health information on the Site is for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical/health advice.


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