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How To Do CPR: Step By Step Guide

How To Do CPR: Step By Step Guide

May 27, 2020 | Last Updated: August 31, 2021

Steps On How To Do CPR On A Person

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the United States and claims the lives of over 350,000 people each year, including over 7,000 youth under age 18. SCA is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. When a person goes into SCA, they will suddenly collapse and not respond or breathe normally. They may gasp or shake as if having a seizure.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest leads to death within minutes if the victim does not get help immediately. Every minute that a person suffering from Sudden Cardiac Arrest does not receive a defibrillation shock from an AED, their chances of survival decrease by 7-10%. Survival from SCA depends on the quick actions of people nearby calling 911, starting Hands-Only CPR, and using an AED as soon as possible. Keep reading to learn how you can CALL-PUSH-SHOCK and save a life from Sudden Cardiac Arrest!



Step 1: Recognize Sudden Cardiac Arrest & Call 911

Survival from Sudden Cardiac Arrest depends on the quick response of people nearby. But how do you know if someone has suffered Sudden Cardiac Arrest? Fortunately, there are only a few simple things you need to remember in order to recognize SCA and save a life.

When to Call, Push, and Shock

If you see someone collapse suddenly and they are not responsive, you need to CALL-PUSH-SHOCK. This means that you must immediately call 911, begin Hands-Only CPR, and use an AED to restart their heart. 

Let’s say you didn’t see a person collapse, but you find someone who is unresponsive. In this case, you also need to immediately CALL-PUSH-SHOCK.

If a person is not responding, don’t keep trying to wake them up – they will not and your fast response is critical for their survival.

People in Sudden Cardiac Arrest May Appear to be Breathing or Moving

Often, someone in Sudden Cardiac Arrest will not be perfectly still or silent. Rather, they may exhibit the following behaviors:

Agonal Breathing:
Unresponsive victims in Sudden Cardiac Arrest may make gasping or snoring sounds. This is called agonal breathing and it is not normal breathing. Their heart has stopped and you need to CALL-PUSH-SHOCK. This video of an actual Sudden Cardiac Arrest demonstrates what agonal breathing looks and sounds like from 2:24-2:54.

Shaking or Clenching:
Sudden Cardiac Arrest victims may also make shaking or clenching seizure-like movements. These movements do not mean they are awake. Their heart has stopped and you need to CALL-PUSH-SHOCK. This video of an actual Sudden Cardiac Arrest demonstrates clenching from 4:41-5:00.

Continued Breathing:
In an athletic setting, if there is a non-traumatic sudden collapse and the athlete is unresponsive, it may look like they are still breathing. This is called continued respirations and it is not normal breathing. Their heart has stopped and you need to CALL-PUSH-SHOCK. This video of an actual Sudden Cardiac Arrest demonstrates what continued respirations look like from 0:00-0:24.

What to Say When you Call 911

Emergency dispatchers are trained to ask questions and identify what is going on, so don’t stress about remembering to say the right thing. Emergencies are scary and calling 911 is the first key step in responding to a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. When you do call 911, it is helpful to remember the following:

  • Either you or another bystander should begin Hands-Only CPR while 911 is being called
  • The 911 dispatcher will ask you a series of questions about where you are located and the status of the victim. Answer these questions so that they can help you and provide information to Emergency Medical Services on the way
  • The dispatcher will ask you if the victim is breathing normally. Remember that Sudden Cardiac Arrest victims may appear to be breathing, so if you’re not sure, describe what you see and it’s OK to say I don’t know
  • Don’t hang up the phone until the 911 dispatcher tells you to
  • Dispatchers are there to help and support you. They can tell you how to perform Hands-Only CPR and how to use an AED. You are not alone!

Hear from an actual 911 dispatcher about how they help callers during a cardiac emergency!

Interview with 911 Dispatcher, Christy Harden

by Anna Harleen | Avive Solutions


Step 2: Perform Hands-Only CPR

Why is Hands-Only CPR Important:

  • You can triple a person’s chances of survival from SCA by immediately performing CPR
  • Hands-Only CPR will not hurt the person in Sudden Cardiac Arrest, it can only help
  • To perform Hands-Only CPR, you just need to push hard and fast on the center of their chest
  • Start Hands-Only CPR immediately while 911 is being called
  • Hands-Only CPR keeps blood flowing to a person’s brain after their heart stops beating

How to Perform Hands-Only CPR

The worst thing you can do when someone is suffering from Sudden Cardiac Arrest is nothing! Hands-Only CPR, even if it’s not performed perfectly, greatly increases a person’s chances of survival. The steps below will guide you through how to perform Hands-Only CPR and teach you this simple skill that can save a life.

Helpful Hands-Only CPR Tips

  • When you are performing proper CPR chest compressions, you may hear a cracking sound or feel something crack beneath your hands. This is usually the cartilage in the sternum or ribs breaking. While this may feel disturbing, it is OK and you must continue performing Hands-Only CPR. Do not let the fear of breaking ribs or causing other injuries stop you from performing Hands-Only CPR. It’s better to break a couple of ribs than to let the person die!
  • Good Samaritan Laws throughout the United States legally protect those who help rescue people that are ill or injured in emergency situations, including victims of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
  • Women are 27% less likely to receive CPR in public spaces. Hands-Only CPR saves lives and should be administered to both men and women equally 
  • Hands-Only CPR can be tiring, so if someone else if nearby, take turns doing chest compressions! Just make sure that you are performing high-quality chest compressions without stopping or taking breaks 
  • To remember the correct rate for chest compressions, use the beat of a familiar song! Good CPR songs include Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, Macarena by Los Del Rio, and Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. For more songs, check out the American Heart Association’s special CPR Playlist


Step 3: Use an AED to Restart the Heart

What is an AED & Why is Defibrillation Important

An Automated External Defibrillator or AED is a device that delivers a defibrillation shock to a person in Sudden Cardiac Arrest in order to restart their heart into a normal. These are the most important things you need to know about using an AED: 

  • Anyone should feel comfortable using an AED, including you! 
  • AEDs will only deliver a defibrillation shock to people who need it
  • The AED will provide you with clear audio and visual instructions
  • Using an AED is the only way to restart the heart of a person in Sudden Cardiac Arrest

How to Use an AED:


Side Note: The AED will read the person’s heart rhythm for arrythmias and determine if they need a defibrillation shock. If the AED says that a shock is not advised, then continue performing Hands-Only CPR until emergency medical services arrive or a shock is advised.

About Call-Push-Shock

CALL-PUSH-SHOCK is a national collaborative movement to promote bystander and lay rescuer response to Sudden Cardiac Arrest. This movement is led by Parent Heart Watch and the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.


To learn more about Sudden Cardiac Arrest, check out our SCA Facts.