Posted: Monday, February 15, 2021

Hands-Only CPR: A Life-Saving Skill

February’s American Hearth Month designation makes it a great time to learn a new, potentially life-saving skill. When you or someone you love is having a heart attack, it’s important to get help as quickly as possible. This, of course, means calling 911 immediately. Because time is so critical to saving a life during a heart attack, you actually can start helping someone experiencing a heart attack while you wait for paramedics to arrive, so long as you know how to correctly perform CPR. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 90 percent of people who go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital don’t survive. However, if CPR is performed quickly enough, it can double or even triple a person’s chances of survival.

Blount Memorial cardiologist Dr. Jane Souther says knowing CPR can prevent tragedies close to home. “In many, if not most cases, if you’re performing CPR, you’re doing so to save a loved one’s life, which is why it’s important to know the correct way to perform CPR, or even hands-only CPR, which has proven to be equally effective,” Souther said. “With hands-only CPR, you don’t have to perform the breathing techniques you may have seen or been taught before; it’s just chest compressions. It’s important, though, to know how to do them properly,” she explained. “You want to focus on pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest to the beat of a song that has 100 to 120 beats per minute, such as ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees. Remembering the beat of a familiar song really can make all the difference,” she added.

You can learn how to perform hands-only CPR in as little as two minutes. The more important part of hands-only CPR is knowing when to use it. “All of us should be aware of the warning signs of a heart attack, so we can spot them when we see them,” Souther said. “Early Heart Attack Care (EHAC) means being able to recognize when someone is experiencing mild chest pain, pressure or discomfort; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; excessive fatigue; or pain that travels down one or both arms. Part two of EHAC is responding, meaning to call 911, then perform hands-only CPR or find and deploy an Automated External Defibrillator (AED),” she said.

Sometimes, the life you save by recognizing and executing EHAC can even be your own. “Some patients confuse the early symptoms of a heart attack with heartburn or indigestion, and may not feel like these feelings are life-threatening,” Souther said. “The milder the symptoms, the easier they are to ignore, as well. We all lead busy lives and don’t always take mild discomfort seriously. But you shouldn’t sit there in pain thinking it will go away on its own – if you’re experiencing these symptoms, get yourself checked as quickly as possible. Remember that women’s symptoms can be very different from men’s symptoms. Often, women experience palpitations, pain in the shoulders or neck, or extreme weakness, which also can be early signs of a heart attack,” she explained. “The majority of damage done to the heart during a heart attack occurs during the first two hours, so you could be doing real damage to your heart, your life and your future if you delay that visit to the hospital,” she added.

You can learn the life-saving hands-only CPR technique in as little as 90 seconds by watching an instructional video available at

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